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Philippines mourns massacre victims

By Jason Gutierrez
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 10:13:00 11/23/2010

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Maguindanao Massacre

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao, Philippines? (UPDATE) The Philippines on Tuesday mourned the one-year anniversary of the country's worst political massacre amid pleas for justice and fears of attacks by the clan blamed for the murders.

Four military battalions were deployed to protect some 3,000 families and supporters of the victims who made an emotional journey atop a remote grassy hill in the southern province of Maguindanao where the carnage took place.

"The situation is manageable, but the military is not taking any chances," Lieutenant Colonel Benjie Hao, one of the ground commanders in the south, told AFP.

The relatives are expected to be joined by religious leaders who will lead an ecumenical prayer at midday (0400 GMT) in front of a memorial marker at the massacre site on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Shariff Aguak.

The powerful Ampatuan clan, which had governed Maguindanao since 2001, allegedly orchestrated the murders of 58 people in a futile bid to stop a member of a rival Muslim clan from running for the provincial governorship.

Those killed were relatives and supporters of the rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, who were to have filed his election nomination papers, as well as at least 32 local journalists who had travelled in the convoy.

Their bodies were later found in shallow pits, and witnesses who have so far testified in the ongoing trial in Manila said the victims were gunned down mostly by Andal Ampatuan Jr., the clan patriarch's son and namesake.

President Benigno Aquino III declared Tuesday a "day of remembrance" and ordered government employees to wear black to symbolize unity with the victims' relatives.

"I call on the Filipino people to solemnly bear the departed in their thoughts, and for all the citizens from all walks of life to commit, in solidarity, to the quest for justice for the victims," Aquino said.

Radio and television stations silenced their broadcasts for 58 seconds at 7:00 a.m. to remember those killed and urge authorities to speed up the prosecutions of those accused.

"This is a symbolic gesture... to remember the victims of the massacre, for justice to be served, and for the suspects to be made answerable," Kilusan ng mga Brodkasters ng Pilipinas president Herman Basbano told AFP.

While the death toll is officially 57, a 33rd journalist, Humberto Mumay, was believed to have been killed as well.

This would bring the death toll to 58 but the Ampatuans are only being prosecuted for 57 murders because Mumay's body has not been found and he is officially declared as missing.

A year after the massacre, Ampatuan Sr. and Jr. and four other clan leaders have been charged and are behind bars.

But Ampatuan Jr. is the only clan leader whose trial has already begun and there are fears the court proceedings could last for years.

Meanwhile, many members of the Ampatuans' private army remain on the loose, and at least one key prosecution witness has been killed.

More than 100 of the 196 people accused in the crime are at large, and allegedly can receive calls from their leaders to stage attacks.

"They remain very dangerous and can receive instructions any time (from the Ampatuan leaders) through mobile phones," Mangudadatu, the rival politician and now provincial governor, told AFP.

The Ampatuans had ruled Maguindanao with the support of former president Gloria Arroyo, who supplied the family's private militia of up to 5,000 men so they could be used as a proxy force against Muslim separatist rebels.

Rights groups have alleged she also ignored the Ampatuans' reputation for violence because they helped deliver votes in national elections?charges she denies.

However rights watchdogs say Aquino, who took office on June 30 this year, must also address the bigger picture of abolishing all private armies run by politicians across the country.

The government still funds and arms some of these militias to supplement the under-resourced military, and critics say Aquino has either been unwilling or unable to disband the militias.

"The fact that private armies continue to operate a year after the Maguindanao massacre is an affront to the victims and an invitation to further disasters," said Amnesty International's Asia director, Sam Zafiri.

Rosa May de Guzman, Inquirer Mindanao

Copyright 2015 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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