The Centre for Philippine Concerns (CAP-CPC) condemns the Ampatuan Massacre in the Philippines and demands justice for all victims
Montréal, Québec, Canada - November 28, 2009
The Centre d'appui aux Philippines / Centre for Philippine Concerns (CAP-CPC) vehemently condemns the barbaric massacre of at least 57 people, including many women and children, 29 journalists, and human rights lawyers on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.
The victims were abducted and executed by approximately 100 gunmen while en route to file election papers for Ismael Mangudadatu as a candidate for governor of Maguindanao in the May 2010 elections. The candidate was not with the entourage as he had received death threats.
The 29 journalist victims constitute the largest group of media personnel killed in a single incident in the world. Twenty-four of the victims were women including the candidate’s wife and sisters and two lawyers, Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo. Many of the victims were beheaded and mutilated; some of the women were raped.
It signals the opening round of what we fear to be an extremely bloody lead up to the Presidential elections in May 2010 in which entrenched forces will use any means to maintain control behind a facade of democracy.
Police have named as the chief suspect, Andal Amputuan Jr., son of the three-term governor of Maguindanao province and a powerful supporter of the Lakas Kampi colation led by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Andal Ampatuan Jr. was being groomed to take over his father’s position as Governor. He was assisted by senior police officials, local police and paramilitary forces who function as a private army of the Ampatuan clan. An earth digger registered to the provincial government was even on hand to bury the victims in common graves prepared in advance.
The Ampatuans are governors of both Maguindanao and the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the family includes a cabinet undersecretary, congressmen and several town mayors . These warlords delivered large numbers of questionable votes to the ruling coalition of President Arroyo in the 2004 and 2007 elections. The town nearest the massacre site carries the family's name.
The Ampatuan warlords apparently consider themselves untouchable because of their loyal ties to the Arroyo government. A climate of impunity reigns for human rights violators and mass murderers in the Philippines.
Since 2001 over 800 people have been killed in the Philippines, all of them in some way seen as opponents or critics of the regime led by President Arroyo. The dead include peasants, lawyers (22), judges (15), opposition politicians, journalists and other members of civil society as well as 51 incidents of massacres victimizing 255 persons.
These extra-judicial killings are perceived to be a result of the U.S.- initiated counter-insurgency plan to eliminate the New People’s Army - Operation Plan Freedom Watch (Oplan Bantay Laya - OBL). The OBL was first ceated by the Arroyo regime in 2002 as a 5-year plan and extended in 2007 with the support and encouragement of the U.S. Government under its “global war on terror” policies. There have been no proper investigations of these extrajudicial killings and only one prosecution and conviction.
In the case of the Ampatuan massacre, it took four days before the principal suspect was taken into custody and only after intense public outcry for justice. The Arroyo government’s initial response was to declare a state of emergency in the province which would be enforced, of course, by the local state apparatus controlled by the Ampatuans.
Over the past few years, the Arroyo government has given the Ampatuan clan the authority to recruit and arm civilians to assist in fighting “insurgents” in the region. As a result, the Ampatuans now have a 500-strong army, which includes entire regular military and police units assigned to ensure the security of the clan members, as well as 200 special armed civilian auxiliary forces. These paramilitary forces of the Civilian Volunteer Organization (CVO) and Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU) are officially designated and financed by Manila as auxiliaries of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in line with Oplan Bantay Laya.
Through its continuing support for OBL, Washington bears responsibility for this crime against humanity. The US military considers Mindanao strategic for its forces in this part of the world. It maintains military facilities on the island in direct violation of the Philippine Constitution. It has conducted at least seven military exercises in Mindanao since 2001, poured in millions of dollars of military aid and has trained local security forces to enhance “interoperability” with US troops.
Ottawa also shares responsibility. Canadian mining companies are active in several islands of the Philippines including mineral-rich Mindanao and are known to use local private security forces as well as the AFP and PNP to protect their interests.
In a statement, the Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) and Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) pointed out that in 2007, Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur for extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, made a number of recommendations to prevent further and punish past extrajudicial killings.
Their statement reads: (Alston's) recommendation that, “(C)onvictions in a significant number of extrajudicial executions must be achieved” has not been implemented. His recommendation that, “IALAG [Inter-active Legal Agency Group] should be abolished, and the criminal justice system should refocus on investigating and prosecuting those committing extrajudicial executions and other serious crimes” has not been implemented. His recommendation that “(H)uman rights should be safeguarded within the peace movement” has not been implemented.
The statement concludes: “The Philippine government failed to take effective steps to prevent or punish those extrajudicial killings, in spite of the careful recommendations of Professor Alston. That failure violated the Philippine government’s primary legal duty to protect the right to life and to ensure adequate criminal and civil remedies when that right is violated. It also created the climate of impunity that encouraged and allowed the November 23 2009 massacre. For a period of over eight years, the Philippine government has on the one hand refused, and on the other, demonstrated a lack of capacity, to carry out the investigations required by both international law (binding on the Philippines) and domestic law.”
The Stop the Killings in the Philippines Network and the Philippine Solidarity Network - Canada calls on all justice-loving people to denounce the Ampatuan Massacre and all other extra-judicial killings in the Philippines, demand an independent international probe of these killings, and condemn the Arroyo government for coddling mass murderers and human rights violators as well as its direct implication in the extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.
We demand the dismantling of the private armies of the warlords in Maguindanao Province as well as other parts of the Philippines and the immediate rescinding of Executive Order 546 created by the Philippine government in July, 2006 which allows local politicians to convert and fund their private armies as legal entities in the counter-insurgency program.
We demand that those responsible for this attack as well as those involved in the more than 1,000 extrajudicial killings perpetrated with impunity, be they hired thugs or ranking officials in the government and its police and armed forces, be immediately investigated and made to face prosecution and such further actions as required by local and international law.
Too many people have died, the bloodbath and the climate of impunity must stop now.
JUSTICE FOR THE VICTIMS OF AMPATUAN MASSACRE!
JUSTICE TO ALL VICTIMS OF EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS!
STOP THE KILLINGS IN THE PHILIPPINES!
Given the intimate ties of the Ampatuans and other forces in the Philippines with the U.S.-backed Arroyo government, there is no reason to expect that any fact-finding body or investigation initiated by the present Philippine government will be credible or will bring justice to the victims of massacres and other human rights violations in the Philippines.
To this end we join with other lawyers and human rights organizations around the globe in demanding:
1. The appointment of a team of professional investigators from outside the Philippines;
a) qualified in the various necessary aspects of criminal investigations,
b) absolutely independent of the Arroyo regime; and
c) authorized to compel production of evidence and examine witnesses; and
d) mandated to conduct a thorough, transparent and accountable inquiry into the 57 murders that occurred on November 23, 2009; as well as put into place the mechanisms for uncovering the facts and responsibility behind the other political killings and forced disappearances, and
e) mandated to make recommendations for the prosecution of the suspected perpetrators identified by the inquiry and to make recommendations of alternatives in the event that the Philippine courts are unable or unwilling to proceed with the prosecutions recommended.
2. Monitor and assure the safety of others likely to be under attack, including the witnesses.