Vigil held for victims of Ampatuan Massacre, summary killings under Arroyo

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 November)—In a vigil here on Monday commemorating the Ampatuan Massacre a year ago, groups belonging to the Alliance Against Impunity in Mindanao (AIM) prayed not only for the 58 people, 32 of them journalists, who were killed in the worst election related violence in Philippine history, but also for the 1,000 victims of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government.

Lining before a long white streamer bearing the names of the massacre victims, Bishop Modesto Villasanta of the United Church of Christ of the Philippines (UCCP) led the crowd in prayer for those “suffering from torture, illegal arrests and harassments, for those deprived of impartial tribunal and detained for the offense they have not committed and for those displaced by unjust wars.”

“Let our church affirm and assert its ministry defending and upholding life and basic human rights as your people,” Villasanta said before a crowd that chanted “Lord, hear our prayer.”

“God of equality and justice we pray for those who have been deprived of impartial tribunal and detained for the offence they have not committed,” the bishop prayed.

“God of peace, remember and pray for our brothers and sisters who are victims of state repression. We pray for thousands of displaced families and refugees brought about by unjust wars.”

“We pray for our brothers and sisters hurt, injured and killed in sitio Masalay, Ampatuan in Maguindanao last November 23 2009,” he said.

“Let not our hearts and minds deny the killings of people who are advocates of peace and political activists. Let not our hearts and minds deny that these killings are becoming systematic and intentional in communities where people are actively upholding human rights,” he said.

“Let not our hearts and minds deny that these killings will go on if we do not raise our voices in protest,” he added.

Fr. Diony Cablitas of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), chair of the human rights group Karapatan, said that aside from those killed in Ampatuan, 1,000 political activists were also summarily killed and 200 more involuntarily disappeared under the impunity that marked the previous administration.

He said impunity continues until now because the new administration is not doing anything to address it.

Cablitas pointed out that former president Arroyo issued Executive Order 546 which allowed the Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao to amass such a huge arsenal of high-powered firearms, which they used to intimidate people and perpetuate a “reign of terror” in Maguindanao.

He further said that under the first five months of the Aquino administration, 22 political activists have been summarily killed, excluding a botanist who was mistaken as a New People’s Army in Leyte.

Unless the perpetrators are punished, impunity will continue, he said.

Hindi mapigil ang pamamaslang, pagkat walang pinaparusahan.  Ito ang kahulugan ng impunity (The killing cannot stop because nobody is being punished. This is the meaning of impunity),” he said.

He alleged that the US government’s military assistance to the Philippine government also benefited political warlords like the Ampatuans.

“For every six high-powered firearms given by the United States to the Philippine government, one of them goes to the Ampatuan clan to perpetuate the reign of terror,” he said.

Despite his promise, President Aquino has failed to go after perpetrators of human rights violations, including retired General Jovito Palparan, Cablitas said.

He said the new administration even extended its predecessor’s Oplan Bantay Laya, a counterinsurgency plan which allegedly hunted down and harassed members of militant groups in an attempt to wipe out the communist-led insurgency.

The groups demanded that justice should be served and that the Arroyo administration should be made accountable for the crimes committed.  (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)