Reactions to Ampatuan Massacre

Community News & Features Dec 17, 2009 at 2:54 pm

As the gruesome details of the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre in Maguindanao spread in the Filipino-Canadian community and the political aftermath in the Philippines reared its ugly head, community members and leaders throughout the GTA cried out their condemnation of the killings and called for genuine justice for the victims.

There were at least five events held in memory of the 57 people who were allegedly slain, tortured, some of whom were raped by the brutal private militia of the ruling Ampatuan clan. The innocent victims were women relatives of their political rivals, Mangudadatus, who were filing election papers to oppose the Ampatuans, some 30 journalists and two human rights lawyers accompanying the convoy, and passersby at the wrong checkpoint at the wrong time.

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared Martial Law in Maguindanao on Dec. 4, which was lifted on Dec. 12 amidst a backlash opposing its implementation. Members of the Ampatuan clan arrested in connection with the massacre currently stand charged of rebellion, including Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan. Critics have said rebellion charges will be difficult to prove. A murder case has been filed against Datu Unsay Mayor, Andal Ampatuan Jr., who is accused by witnesses of leading the massacre.

The Ampatuans allegedly helped Arroyo get elected in 2004 and his senators in 2007 through election fraud. There have been demands for an international tribunal to try the alleged perpetrators, independent of the Philippine government.

JONATHAN CANCHELA

JONATHAN CANCHELA


Events in the GTA:

• The Philippine Press Club of Ontario (PPCO) held a Candlelight Ceremony in memory of slain journalists at Cucina Manila on Nov. 27.

• Filipino Migrant Workers Movement held a Migrant Issues Workshop at the hall at 900 Steeles Ave. W., where they discussed the massacre and issues surrounding it on Dec. 6.

• On Dec. 8, various youth and student organizations hosted a Kamalayaan event at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre for Arts & Culture, where they presented some historical context of the conflicts in Mindanao, followed by a discussion.

• Various Filipino groups led by Bayan Canada hosted a Solidarity Vigil Protest in memory of the victims of the massacre at Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church on Dec. 10.

• An event called “Ampatuan and the Road to Violence: Philippine Issues through Songs” was held at the Gateway Centre for New Canadians on Dec. 12, which was hosted by Kapelosopohan: Centre for Migrant Education, Forum for Philippine Concerns and Response, Migrante Mississauga, and Gabriela Ontario.


Statements in Reaction:

The following are quotations gathered from participants and facilitators at GTA events. Also included are selections from statements released by various organizations throughout Canada and a “Statement on the Situation in Maguindanao” forwarded by Ambassador Jose S. Brillantes on behalf of the Embassy of the Philippines in Ottawa.

“The Maguindanao Massacre of 23 November 2009 and the rising of lawless elements in its wake have moved the President of the Philippines to declare a state of Martial Law limited to the province of Maguindanao only.

The proclamation became necessary in order to fully pursue the perpetrators and return the province to normalcy… [and] became necessary under the following circumstances obtaining in Maguindanao:

• Heavily armed groups in the province of Maguindanao have established positions to resist government troops, thereby depriving the Executive of its powers and prerogatives to enforce the laws of the land and to maintain public order and safety; and,

• The condition of peace and order in the province of Maguindanao has deteriorated to the extent that the local judicial system and other government mechanisms in the province are not functioning, thus endangering public safety.

JOJO GERONIMO

JOJO GERONIMO

The Government’s objective is to arrest the suspects, protect the witnesses, dismantle private armies, ensure press freedom in the area, and stop the rebellion. It is also essential that vital evidence and witnesses be secured and safeguarded right away, before they are lost.

Arrests have been made for most of the alleged perpetrators. Suspected members of the Ampatuan family… have been suspended and a new Governor has been sworn in.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has declared that most of the objectives have been accomplished and they may recommend early lifting of Martial Law.

The Embassy of the Philippines joins all peace-loving Filipinos, in the Philippines and all over the world, in praying and working for a just and lasting peace in Maguindanao.” -from the Embassy of the Philippines, Ottawa dated Dec. 11

*****

W]e cannot trust the government in solving the monstrous offence purportedly committed by its own sponsored warlords. We cannot trust the police and the military running the business of dismantling private armies in Maguindanao as tons and tons of ammunition found in the Ampatuan properties bear their official stamp…

We join today the Filipino nation and many peace-and-justice-loving people around the world in condemning in the strongest possible terms one of the most horrible politically-related mass killings in the Philippines. We demand justice for all the victims of the Ampatuan massacre, and all victims of political killings in the Philippines.” -Migrante-Ontario Statement dated Dec. 9

*****

“Never again to Martial Law! Stop the killings in the Philippines! Stop the Killings Now! Justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre!” -chants from the Vigil Protest

*****

“In order to understand the massacre in Maguindanao, one has to understand what has been happening under the Arroyo regime over the past years… The government’s counter-insurgency program has always played up this terrorist threat so that everyone now that opposes government is perceived as terrorists… So it is in this context that we should look at the arrogance and the brazenness with which the Ampatuan massacre was carried out, especially since the clan is a staunch supporter of the Arroyo government…

Who is behind “the low-intensity conflicts” in the 1980’s and other counter-insurgency campaigns? None but the US, who provides the training, the weaponry, and the finances for this.” -Ricky Esguerra, speaker at the Kamalayaan, Vigil Protest, and “Ampatuan and the Road to Violence” events

*****

“The brazenness and brutality, with which the massacre was carried out underscores the fact that the perpetrators are unafraid that they will be held to account for their crime… President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo issued the Executive Order 546 to allow local officials and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to deputize Civilian Volunteer Organizations as ‘force multipliers’ in the fight against insurgents… Such [CVOs] are reported to be responsible for the massacre in Ampatuan…

Thus, we believe that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself must account for the prevailing culture of violence and impunity, of which the massacre in Ampatuan is the latest and most deeply shocking consequence…

STKN and PSNC call on the Canadian government to apply strong pressures on the Government of the Philippines to take immediate and effective action to bring perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.” -from the Joint Statement of the Philippines Solidarity Networks in Canada (PSNC) and Stop the Killings Network (SKTN) dated Dec. 1

*****

“I am so appalled by the gravity of the violence in Maguindanao. Politics has gone past corruption and violence. I am hoping and praying that the full force of the law and justice (whatever is left of it) is slammed right on the face of the perpetrators. My deepest condolence to the family of the victims, most specially our brothers and sisters of the media.” -Jun Envarga

*****

“Alejandro ‘Bong’ Reblando, one of the 27 murdered journalists in Maguindanao last Monday was a long time colleague… If there was anyone who is capable of stirring up the media group into frenzied laughter it was Bong. He was friendly, cordial, easy going and full of life…

It is sad to think that he is gone forever, his head smashed beyond recognition and one of his ears slashed off, his body riddled with bullets. The rest of his media colleagues were all found dead with multiple bullet wounds… Like all of us, he was a firm believer in Press Freedom and in his last moments, perhaps, still believed that the ‘Pen is mightier than the Sword.’

…With this massacre, the Philippines is branded worldwide as the top murderer of journalists this year. It has surpassed war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan… The savagery, shamelessness and mutilation of the victims’ bodies show the ugly realities of our Philippine politics and society. Many of the women victims bore the signs of sexual abuse and their genitals were slashed, eyes pierced, their breasts and mouths shot in close range.” -Edwin C. Mercurio, former Editor of the Mindanao Journal, General Santos City Bureau

*****

“According to Reporters Without Borders, [the Ampatuan massacre] was the most journalists killed in a single day in world history. I personally travelled to the Philippines in 2006 as part of the Philippines Canada Task Force on Human Rights… I can say that at that time, we became aware of the culture of impunity that was growing under the Arroyo regime, where people were being disappeared, killed, tortured and extra-judicially executed, regularly, people who were simply speaking out for the rights of human beings… These latest killings certainly underscore the culture of impunity…

The Law Union adopted another statement issued by the Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and the Asian Legal Resource Centre… We certainly endorse their call for a professional team of investigators from outside the Philippines to follow-up on these murders… and further, to monitor the safety of others likely to be attacked.” -Mike Leitold, Vice Chair of the Law Union of Ontario

*****

“No regime in recent history in the country has ever come close to this level of impunity. No regime has ever brought the country to such low depths of human rights abuses.” -Hermie Garcia, President of the Community Alliance for Social Justice and Editor-in-chief of The Philippine Reporter

*****

“For me, having grown up in the Philippines almost all my life, I have heard through news and word of mouth how upcoming elections can cause bloodshed and fear among the people. Voters become weary of what they say and how to tell their opinions and those who are to be elected gather arms, strength and financial resources…

[W]arlordism is nothing new among the different areas in the Bangsamoro region… adding to that, those in charge feel they are above the law.” -Marc Alonzo, international student and presenter at Kamalayaan and the Vigil Protest

*****

“The Ampatuan Massacre on November 23rd is pivotal in the awakening of the consciousness of mainstream Filipino overseas into the wrongdoings of government… Though some may feel hopeless because of distance and constraints, I feel that much of the work needs to be done here in our community via lobbying and progressive groups in order to enlighten and rattle those who are complacent of this ongoing situation.” -Ian Nillas, founder and radio host of Jump Off Radio

*****

“For quite a few years people all over the world have been concerned about what has been happening in the Philippines in terms of extra-judicial killings and particularly the plight of journalists who have been trying to cover issues critically. The events in Maguindinao have struck so many people as so terrible and so tragic that it really has moved people to do something about this… I’m here in solidarity for those who have lost loved ones… and also in solidarity for with those who are calling for justice.” -Dr. Philip Kelly, Associate Professor, York University

*****

“We strongly condemn the heinous killing of 24 women and 33 other Filipinos in Maguindinao… There are reports that some of the women were raped and some of them bore shot wounds in the body parts that mark their womanhood. The earth, she who has been drenched in one day in the blood of 57 people, cries out for justice.

No less should we women cry for justice. We, who know that we women, like the Mangudadatu women, have long been sacrificial lambs in every twist and turn of our nation’s political history. We, who know that despite our valiant efforts, just like the women lawyers who were savagely killed, despite all our efforts to… change the course of injustice, corruption and greed our country, there are others, yes there are women, who will willfully continue on a course of darkness…

Since 2001, there are now more than 800 people who have been killed in our country, under the second ironically enough, woman president of the Philippines… Out of these victims, only one has been given justice… If it truly is a democratic state, it must show courage in at last enshrining the law and setting the truth free.” -Pet Cleto, representative of Gabriela Ontario, and former journalist for The Philippine Daily Inquirer.