DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 Nov) – President Aquino is apparently not serious in delivering justice for the 58 victims of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre because no serious effort has been done to dismantle private armies, lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, convenor of the Alliance against Impunity in Mindanao (AIM) said.
Zarate, also Bayan Muna Vice President for Mindanao, said the President does not appear sincere about his election campaign vow to dismantle private armies, apparently because political clans deliver votes during elections and the 2013 midterm election is just half a year away.
The Ampatuans, principal suspects in the Ampatuan Massacre, were blamed for the massacre , the worst pre-election campaign violence in Philippine history.
Zarate said several members of the Ampatuans are running for local elections in 2013 under the Liberal Party. Ironically, he added, Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife was one of the massacre victims, is seeking reelection under the same party.
In an interview, lawyer Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, a private prosecutor for some of the 32 media victims in the Ampatuan Massacre case, acknowledged that dismantling private armies is not a simple problem.
“There is a need to address the root problem of why such political clan has a private army in the first place,” she said, adding “either our existing PNP (Philippine National Police) is not able to provide security that they should be providing or we are allowing let’s say the proliferation of loose firearms or granting licenses left and right to certain individuals.”
Quinsayas presented updates of the Ampatuan Massacre trial in a forum dubbed Third Davao Media Freedom Day: Gag us not, Kill us not, at the Ateneo de Davao University on Friday afternoon.
Jessie Casalda, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines-Davao City, said the Aquino administration further allows private armies through EO 79 or the revised mining policy that offers state forces to aid mining companies.
He also noted that “instead of prevailing peace in Maguindanao, the Aquino administration allows relatives of Ampatuan to run under the Liberal Party to gain votes in the areas where there are political warlords,” he said. “The resources and influence of the Ampatuans still remain,” he stressed.
Senator Franklin Drilon, Liberal Party chair had told reporters at the Senate on Thursday that he would not agree that the Ampatuans – nine of them running under the Liberal Party – would run under their party.
“I will not agree that they should run under our party,” Drilon said.
“We should revoke whatever CONA (certificates of nomination and acceptance) that they have issued to the Ampatuans. I am not in favor of that,” he said.
Cycle of impunity
Zarate pointed out that the delaying tactics of the accused in the Ampatuan Massacre trial are perpetuating the cycle of impunity.
“Because of the delay, we might lose our rage, then our memory of the massacre, until we would totally forget about the injustices. And the cycle of impunity continues,” he said.
But people should not forget and should continue to fight for justice for all victims and their relatives, he said.
“Let’s not rely on the four corners of our justice and judicial system. It should be accompanied by a mass movement to achieve genuine justice,” said Zarate, who also spoke at the Ateneo forum on the controversial RA 10175 or the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012,
Quinsayas told the forum that 26 years since the restoration of democracy in our country, there were only 10 convictions in the nearly 200 cases of killings of journalists.
She said everyone’s cooperation is needed to end impunity.
There is a need for improvement of police investigation, more public prosecutors and judges, whose tasks are not overloaded, she added.
“And maybe, it’s about time for the Supreme Court to review the rules of court because as our rules now stand, many of the remedies are prone to abuse. That’s why there is such proliferation of delaying tactics on the part of the defense,” she said.
Casalda said impunity is a tool to suppress freedom of expression, especially for the media.
“It’s sad to note that despite the promises of President Aquino during the election campaign to hold accountable those who are responsible of massacre and media killings, the killings continue,” he said. Under Aquino’s administration, 14 journalists had been killed, five this year.
The AIM marked the third year commemoration of the Ampatuan Massacre with a protest march from Centennial Park to Freedom Park here, carrying streamers with the message “From Ampatuan to Arakan, end impunity now!”
Protesters also called for justice for the killings of extrajudicial killings, among them Father Fausto “Pops” Tentorio, the parish priest of Arakan, North Cotabato; Ramon Batoy also in Arakan and Juvy Capion and her two sons in Kiblawan, Davao del Sur. (Lorie Ann A. Cascaro/MindaNews)