‘Culture of impunity’ blamed for Maguindanao massacre

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/24 November) – The country’s “unchecked culture of impunity” is the deeper reason behind Monday’s massacre in Maguindanao that claimed the lives of at least 40 people including the wife of a candidate for governor, two female lawyers, and 12 journalists, a Mindanao-based advocacy group today said.

“Yesterday’s massacre was spawned by a culture of impunity that has long been kept unchecked by a government that is now widely perceived by the international community to be tolerant or approving of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and other human rights violations,” Inpeace Mindanao said in a statement.
“Government cannot claim this as another isolated and containable incidence of violence, much less as merely an election-related one,” the statement, signed by Bishop Felixberto Calang, said.

The Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy said the culture of impunity has been supported by national leaders. In a statement, the group said President Arroyo herself “has been widely perceived to have benefited from ARMM’s ‘reservoir of votes’ during the 2004 elections.”

The group expressed doubts the government would be able to muster enough political will to disarm the warlords in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

“This administration has failed to implement the rule of law as evidenced by the sheer number of loose firearms in the region. Philippine National Police records show that the second highest number of loose firearms placed at 114,189 is in ARMM,” it added.

An undetermined number of armed men suspected to be supporters of Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan yesterday ambushed some 40 persons in a convoy in Ampatuan town who were bound for the provincial Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak to file the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Ismael toto Mangudadatu.

Among the victims were Mangudadatu’s wife, Jenalyn, lawyers Cynthia Oquendo and Connie Brizuela, and a number of journalists.

Instead of filing the certificate of candidacy himself, Mangudadatu had asked his wife Jenalyn to go to the Comelec office.

Brizuela was a board member of Inpeace and served as legal counsel of the Diocese of Kidapawan, North Cotabato.
In a statement, the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao also said that the “barbaric mass murder” shows that the culture of impunity has pervaded “with the existence of warlord-maintained private armies that have long been tolerated by the government, past and present.”

The statement, signed by UPLM secretary general Carlos Isagani Zarate, himself a former reporter, said that the suspects were emboldened by their supposed closeness to Malacañang.

Brizuela and Oquendo were both members of UPLM.

“We demand that the Arroyo administration throws the full force of the government to bring the perpetrators, regardless of their affiliations, to the bar of justice,” the statement added.

Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, speaking on behalf of the Bishops Ulama Conference, likewise condemned the massacre. He said the crime “mocks our humble but painstaking efforts to build harmony and understanding in Mindanao.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said the President “must act immediately on this shameful act of warlordism in Mindanao.”

“If she cannot uphold the rule of law, she should resign especially because the main suspect is reportedly her man,” he added. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)