Ex-Pres. Gloria Arroyo and the Southen Mindanao murders

Arroyo ‘aided’ Ampatuans—HRW
NY rights body says clan linked to 50 other abuses
By Cynthia Balana
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:13:00 11/17/2010

see - http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/nation/view/20101117-303651/Arroyo-aided-AmpatuansHRW

MANILA, Philippines—Militia forces were greatly strengthened under the watch of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo through the sale of military weapons to local officials and other forms of support, with the Maguindanao massacre as prime example of the government’s inability to investigate the resulting atrocities.

This was the verdict of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a 96-page report titled “They Own the People: The Ampatuans, State-backed Militias, and Killings in Southern Philippines,” which was launched Tuesday in Quezon City.

It examined 50 more incidents of killings, sexual assaults, torture and abductions in Mindanao implicating the Ampatuans, whose “rise and expansion,” it said, were “aided” by then President Arroyo.

One year after the massacre of 57 people, including at least 30 media workers, in Maguindanao province, the government has failed to “seriously investigate atrocities by powerful ruling families, ban abusive militia forces, or curtail access of officials to military weaponry,” the HRW said in a report.

HRW called on President Benigno Aquino III to fulfill his campaign promises of justice for victims of the Maguindanao massacre on Nov. 23, 2009, and other rights abuses by directing the National Bureau of Investigation to give priority to looking into the reported abuses of the Ampatuan clan and its militia.

HRW said Mr. Aquino should carry out his pledge to abolish private armies by banning all paramilitary and militia forces in the country.

In the report, HRW implicated the government in the atrocities and abuses perpetrated by the Ampatuans, and detailed how the military and police provided the clan with manpower, modern military weapons, and protection from prosecution.

“The Maguindanao massacre was not an aberration, but the foreseeable consequence of unchecked killings and other serious abuses,” said James Ross, HRW legal and policy director.

“For two decades, the Ampatuans committed atrocities with a ‘private army’ manned by police and soldiers carrying government-supplied weapons,” Ross said.

Continued suffering

The Ampatuans and their militia are believed to have carried out the massacre of 57 civilians to stop a political rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from challenging Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the post of Maguindanao governor in the May elections.

Following the outraged attention that the massacre received worldwide, the government arrested clan members, including Ampatuan Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town and the primary suspect, and his father, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

A total of 197 people have been charged with the killings, including 17 currently on trial, but 115 remain at large.

The Ampatuans have denied involvement in the massacre. Their trials are expected to take years to complete.

Said Ross: “The Philippine government could have turned the national tragedy of the Maguindanao massacre into a campaign to eliminate private armies and bring all those responsible for their abuses to justice.

“The Philippine people—and the country’s reputation—will continue to suffer so long as powerful ruling families are calling the shots.”

Ross said HRW traveled to Mindanao and investigated cases implicating the Ampatuans and showing such brutality as the torture and killing by chain saw of persons suspected to be involved in a bomb attack against a clan member in 2002.

The report was based on more than 80 interviews, including with people having insider knowledge of the Ampatuan clan security structure, victims of abuses and their family members, and witnesses to crimes.

No action from Arroyo

According to the report, Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga province, depended on the Ampatuan clan for crucial votes and support in the protracted armed conflict with Moro armed groups in Mindanao.

It also said the Arroyo administration took no action to address impunity for serious rights abuses, despite the fact that the then President was “directly notified” in 2002 of 33 killings allegedly perpetrated by the Ampatuans.

HRW said Ampatuan Sr., an ex-leader of a state-trained paramilitary force to fight Moro rebels, and his relatives engaged in targeted killings, abductions, torture, and sexual assault in and around Maguindanao.

These were purportedly aimed at expanding the Ampatuans’ political power and to avenge perceived wrongs done on clan members.

The victims were mostly unarmed civilians and included women and children, according to HRW, which alleged that some of the women were raped.

People or families perceived to be aligned with militant Moro groups, friends and relatives of rivals, one weapons vendor, and a judge were slain, HRW said.

Then President Arroyo was forced to end her alliance with the Ampatuans amid local and international outrage over the massacre.

Arroyo had no comment on the HRW report, Agence France-Presse said Tuesday, quoting her spokesperson Elena Bautista-Horn.

Part of the problem

HRW said most members of the Ampatuan private army were also members of the police, military, or state-sanctioned paramilitary forces, including Civilian Volunteer Organizations and Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units.

“Families like the Ampatuans have used officially sanctioned paramilitaries as private armies to spread terror and maintain power,” Ross said.

“The government needs to stop being part of the problem and instead disband the militias and hold abusers to account,” he said.

Ross said the Ampatuans’ militia was just one of more than 100 private armies estimated to operate throughout the Philippines.

He said successive administrations had not dismantled and disarmed these private armies, as stipulated in the Constitution, nor had they investigated unlawful activities by those who control arms, and use these militias for private ends. With a report from Agence France-Press
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