CONDEMNING even in the strongest possible terms yesterday’s slaughter of unarmed civilians in Maguindanao would not be enough as it was so gruesome and perpetrated by no less than the camp of a government official closely linked to Malacañang, and thus the masterminds and culprits must be meted out with the harshest possible punishment.
The Alliance of Progressive Labor aired this demand as the authorities have already dug up in shallow graves more than 20 bullet-riddled bodies, including at least 13 media people, a number of whom are personally known and considered as friends by APL-Mindanao.
Aside from the brutality committed, the carnage – after the euphoria and pride brought by Pacquiao’s boxing victory – has again shot the country into notoriety. The Reporters Without Borders as well as other international and local media groups have admitted that it could be the world’s “largest casualty of journalists in any one incident” and a “dark day for press freedom.”
The death toll is expected to rise as there were still many missing from about 50 people, including over 30 journalists, that accompanied the wife of Ishmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, who was supposed to file in the Commissions on Elections office in Shariff Aguak town her husband’s certificate of candidacy for governor of the Maguindanao province in next year’s polls.
As of press time, 14 of the confirmed killed were women, and a number of them appeared to have been raped also. In fact, women comprised more than half of the group as aside from several female journalists, Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of the vice mayor, had likewise brought with her some 20 women supporters. They had no security escorts at all.
Ms Mangudadatu’s convoy left Buluan at 9 a.m. and was reportedly blocked by armed men 50 kilometers away, at the boundary of the towns of Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan. She was still able to call the vice mayor and described their predicament and identified some of those who waylaid them. That would be the last time that the vice mayor would hear his wife’s voice.
Investigators revealed that all of the victims were shot at close range.
Maguindanao is part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Its capital is the town of Shariff Aguak. Maguindanao and most of the ARMM territories is ruled by the Ampatuan clan, including Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan and his sons ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. The latter has been groomed to replace the Ampatuan patriarch in next year’s elections, and thus a rival of Mangudadatu.
The Amapatuans are very close allies of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and have delivered for Arroyo tremendous amounts of votes during the highly anomalous 2004 presidential elections, in which in one town all her rivals amazingly did not get even one vote.