18 November 2010
By CHIT ESTELLA
AN international human rights organization said Philippine government support for political warlords was responsible for the Maguindanao massacre and other blatant incidents of human rights violations committed by such forces.
In its 96-page report titled “The Ampatuans, State-Backed Militias, and Killings in the Southern Philippines,” the international organization Human Rights Watch said while political killings were not uncommon in Central Mindanao, “the scale and brutality of the Nov. 23 massacre far exceeded previous attacks in this violent region.”
It urged President Aquino to make good his campaign promise to dismantle paramilitary forces and investigate the massacre that led to the death of 58 people, 30 of whom were media workers.
The report also called on foreign donor and aid agencies as well as governments to exert pressure on the Philippine government to take specific steps to investigate and put to an end to human rights violations by political warlords.
The report, which was the result of an investigation conducted by the human rights body from December 2009 to August 2010, also investigated 52 instances of killings, enforced disappearances, torture, sexual assault and abductions not just in Maguindanao but also in CotabatoCity and other surrounding areas in Mindanao.
While placing responsibility on successive administrations since 1987 for failing to dismantle or disarm the “private armies,” the human rights body singled out former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for aiding the rise and expansion of the Ampatuan family whose forces were described as “one of the most powerful and abusive state-backed militias in the Philippines.”
The Ampatuans were among those who helped win victory for the former president in the alleged fraudulent elections of 2004 and the administration’s senatorial ticket in 2007, the report said.
Citing the accounts of persons who knew the Ampatuans or whose kin were victimized by them, Human Rights Watch noted the “particularly brutal methods of killing” employed by the family.
Besides guns and other weapons, the Ampatuans were said to have used chainsaws in torturing and killing their victims. These methods were used against political rivals that posed a threat to their political domination in the province as well as against innocent persons who simply fell victim to the sense of impunity enjoyed by the Ampatuans.
Despite reports of widespread abuse, no arm of the Philippine government attempted to check on the Ampatuans’ power or curtail their brutality, the report said. Even Arroyo, who was directly informed of the abuses, failed to act, it added.
But even as the Ampatuans’ private army may be among the most abusive in the country, Human Rights Watch said that it is only among about 100 such militias operating in the Philippines.
The report described the Maguindanao massacre as “an aberration only because of how many people died, not because of its cold-blooded brutality, which the government, military, and police has long tolerated, and even fueled.” It declared the killings as “an atrocity waiting to happen.”
So long as official support for political warlords continues, so will the atrocities for which they have been responsible, Human Rights Watch said.
From Vera Files,