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Amnesty International Calls on the Philippine Authorities to Ensure Justice for Maguindanao Massacre

WASHINGTON - Amnesty International
today called on the Philippine authorities to ensure timely justice for
the Maguindanao massacre, and to abolish the private armies that continue
to operate one year after the killings.

“How the Philippine government handles
this case will demonstrate how serious President Aquino is about reining
in private armies and curbing human rights violations,” said Sam Zarifi,
Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program director.

On November 23, 2009, at least 57 people
were abducted and brutally killed and their bodies dumped in a mass grave
on a hillside above the town of Ampatuan in the southern Philippine province
of Maguindanao. Those killed included 32 journalists.

“The government has to show that the Philippines
has the ability and will to deal fairly but resolutely with a massacre
that constituted the worst ever attack on journalists anywhere in the world,"
said Zarifi.

Those killed had been travelling in a
convoy to witness the filing of candidacy papers for a local politician
when they were stopped by a group of about 100 armed men. The ambush was
motivated by a long-standing political feud between members of the group
and the Ampatuan clan.

Leading members of the powerful local
Ampatuan clan have since been charged in connection with the killings,
however the trials have been marked by delays and no prosecutions have
been concluded.

Former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan
Sr., and his sons Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Amapatuan are on trial for
the killings. Of the other nearly 200 people implicated in the killings,
news sources report that 82 have been detained, and another 114, including
private militia members, clan members and police and government soldiers,
remain at large.

The Maguindano trials have been marked
by delays and judicial wrangling. Earlier this month Justice Secretary
Leila de Lima said she would accelerate the proceedings, but admitted that
the trials could take six more years.

One year after the massacre, other private
armies continue to operate in the Philippines under Executive Order 546,
which former President Gloria Arroyo signed and implemented in 2006. This
order effectively authorizes private armies by allowing the Philippine
National Police to deputize militias and Civilian Volunteer Organizations
(CVOs) as “force multipliers”.

Many members of Governor Andal Ampatuan’s
private army are part of CVOs, which the government had established and
armed. The system of authorization for armed groups which are then used
as private armies remains intact.

“If President Aquino is serious about
ending the violence associated with private armies, he should revoke Executive
Order 546 at once,” said Zarifi. “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.”


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