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Arroyo under pressure to arrest ex-political ally for massacre

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-11-25

A political ally of Philippine president Gloria Arroyo has been named as the prime suspect in an election-related massacre of 57 people, increasing public pressure on the government to swiftly arrest the perpetrators.

Pressure is mounting on Philippine President Gloria Arroyo to bring to justice the perpetrators of a politically-motivated massacre that left 57 people dead after local police pointed the finger at one of her long-time allies.

Andal Ampatuan Jr, a member of Arroyo’s ruling coalition, mayor of Datu Unsay and the son of a powerful local politician, has emerged as the prime suspect after one of the massacre’s victims identified him in a text message sent minutes before she was killed.

“According to initial reports, those who were abducted and murdered at Saniag were initially stopped by a group led by the mayor of Datu Unsay”, national police spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina said.

Arroyo attracted criticism on Tuesday when she sent a special envoy, Jesus Dureza, to ask the Ampatuan clan to cooperate in the investigation, instead of directly arresting the prime suspect. The murders have already damaged Arroyo’s image and FRANCE 24’s correspondent in the Philippines reports that the president’s ratings are at an all time low.

“There is a public outcry (…) despite the fact that she did order the arrest of all the suspects regardless of their affiliation, people are still questioning if the president will take action”, says Dean Bernardo, a GRN correspondent for FRANCE 24 reporting from Manila.

Breeding ground for private armies

The prime suspect’s father, who is serving his third term as governor of Maguindanao, is known to be a “warlord” who commands a militia with hundreds of fighters.

“Another question is whether the police or the military can actually arrest the suspects because there have private armies protecting the governor and his son”, says FRANCE 24’s Bernardo.

This massacre is the worst politically motivated violence in the Philippines’ recent history. Clan feuds are common in southern Philippines and the two rival families were locked in a bitter dispute for control of the province and large portions of the region.

The victims were abducted while they were travelling in a six-vehicle convoy to nominate a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, as the opposition candidate for governor in next year’s elections. The group included the wife and relatives of Mangudatu, as well as a dozen local journalists.

Horrifying murders

About 100 gunmen brought the victims to a remote hillside at gunpoint. Here they were tortured and then shot at close range before being buried in shallow graves. The relatives of the victims have reported the horrifying details of what happened on that hillside, prompting a public outcry and calls for a clamp-down on the Ampatuan clan.

The government has declared a state of emergency in the province of Maguindanao, where the killings took place, and in adjoining Sultan Kudarat province and Cotabato City. Manila has sent hundreds of extra troops from other parts of the Philippines to reduce tensions in the area.

“We expect to file criminal complaints as soon as we finish documentation and the investigation process”, Ricardo Blancaflor, a justice department undersecretary, told the Reuters News Agency.

“We’re looking for direct evidence to pin down those behind these gruesome murders. We’re now getting statements and waiting for the medico-legal reports needed for filing the complaints.”

Date created : 2009-11-25

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