PRIVILEGE SPEECH: Ampatuan Massacre: Six Years, Zero Justice; End Impunity Now! R

(Privilege speech delivered by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate at the House of Representatives in Quezon City, on 23 November 2015, the sixth anniversary of the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao)

Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues:

Today, I rise on a personal and collective privilege to remember and to call on this Chamber and the Filipino people not to forget the horrible lessons of that infamous massacre of innocents in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province six (6) years ago.

I bring today the muted voice specifically of my friend and colleague lawyer Concepcion Brizuela who was among the 58 innocents who died in the said carnage.

The brutality and monstrosity of that act has been described in so many ways through various media. But what I could never forget is the photo of Atty. Brizuela’s arm, distinguishably hers, the first to appear as one of the first signs of corpses piled beneath a shallow grave.

The nightmarish account of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao Massacre seems to be taken straight out of horrific stories from barbaric societies (although many such stories do continue to exist in many parts of the world). There was a political warlord in a remote province called Maguindanao, supported by a fraudulent President from faraway Manila.

The Ampatuan family has lorded over and even “controlled life and death” in Maguindanao province in Central Mindanao for more than two decades through a “private army of 2000 to 5000 armed men comprised of government-supported militia, local police, and military personnel”.

Remnants of the said “private army” continue to sow terror in Maguindanao despite being “crippled” momentarily following the worldwide outrage spawned by the massacre.

Several members of the Ampatuan clan are now in jail and on trial for this gruesome mass slaughter. But of the 197 identified suspects, only a hundred have been arrested. Of that number, 81 have been indicted.

Mr. Speaker, undoubtedly, the Ampatuan Massacre is a monument of the reign of impunity that has become unchecked and still widespread in the country, especially in Mindanao.

The Ampatuan Massacre is emblematic of the dangers posed by private armies, militias, and paramilitaries.

The Ampatuan massacre also lends credence to the existence of government’s policy, tacit or otherwise, of allowing the burgeoning of private armies as pawns of the military and police in the government’s counter-insurgency campaign.

As it is, human rights abuses – particularly those directed to opposition members or critics of government and its policies – have apparently become part of the political environment because of the failure of the government to bring those responsible to justice.

The government has been unwilling or unable to act against those who support it because it needs their ( the warlords) support to survive.

Yet, the Aquino administration is not serious in addressing it.

For one, contrary to his campaign promise, Pres. Aquino reneged on his campaign promise to revoke Executive Order 546, issued in 2006 by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which allows the arming of paramilitary groups.

It was the same EO cited by the Ampatuans to justify the existence of its “private army” to consolidate its dynastic hold of Maguindanao and the ARMM but in the guise of supposedly fighting the Moro rebels.

As it is now, Executive Order 546 is still an available tool for warlords, powerful politicians and the military to justify arming these militias for political and economic ends.

In Mindanao for example, from Arakan town in North Cotabato, to Tampakan in South Cotabato, to Han-ayan village in Lianga, Surigao del Sur the fangs of the Ampatuan-like impunity have already bitten and cost the lives of lumad advocate and environmentalist Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, the Capion family, school director Emerico Samarca, lumad leader Dionel Campos and Datu Bello Sinzo .

Thus, across the island and in the country in general, may more were victimized with impunity and none of these cases have so far been resolved.

Since Pres. Aquino came to power in June 2010, there have been at least 294 documented cases of extrajudicial killings according to records of Karapatan, and, 37 journalists killed, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

Mr. Speaker, it also appears that, among others, the Aquino administration is also waging a “war of attrition” against the lumads or indigenous peoples of Mindanao.

Based on documentation of human rights and IP groups, there have been 13 lumads killed, including two (2) children, four (4) cases of massacres and more than 4,000 evacuees in six (6) mass evacuations due to military operations and paramilitary harassments in different parts of Mindanao in the last eight (8)months.

These killings betray the present administration’s statements that it seeks to solve the extrajudicial killings.

Like his predecessor, Pres. Aquino is contented to keep and to insulate the system that breeds “warlordism” as it will ensure him the support of local powerful politicians and it will also play a dual and important role in its equally deceitful counter-insurgency campaign Oplan Bayanihan.

This reign of terror should not be allowed to continue. The Aquino government should immediately disarm and disband these paramilitary groups to address this worsening human rights violations, particularly against the lumads.

Six years since November 23, 2009, we find ourselves assailing the same impunity that continues against human rights defenders, journalists and even ordinary citizens.

Now in the twilight and last stretch of his presidency, the Aquino administration, clearly, has never learned from the lessons of the Ampatuan massacre. It continues to promote paramilitary recruitment in communities — particularly in areas where big mining and large agri-plantations are present.

There is no “straight path” (daang matuwid), but rather a continuing and long bloody trail of human rights violations and state of impunity in Mindanao and elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Speaker, today is not merely a day of remembering. We call for more vigilance among the people to protect our fundamental civil, political, and economic rights.

We demand for a speedy resolution of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao Massacre trial.

We demand for justice as well for all the victims of impunity from Tampakan to Arakan to Han-ayan.

We demand accountability from the Aquino administration for the continuing cases of extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations committed by state agents and their proxies. .

We demand for the revocation of EO 546 and the disbandment and disarming of paramilitary groups and private armies.

Finally, Mr. Speaker, we remember this day not with despair in the nil-possibility of justice.

Today, human rights victims and advocates all over the country, are putting President Aquino to task for the still unabated cases of extrajudicial killings and the state of impunity in our country.

This, I believe, is the reason to hope.

As long as the families of victims, the vigilant Filipino people and other freedom-loving peoples all over world are struggling to demand for justice, to demand an end to impunity and to call for accountability, there is much reason to be hopeful.

The Ampatuan Maguindanao Massacre and the continuing state of impunity in our country are an affront not only to journalists and human rights and political advocates in the Philippines, it is an affront to humanity worldwide.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. This privilege speech was delivered by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate at the House of Representatives in Quezon City, on 23 November 2015, the sixth anniversary of the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao)