Media groups, activists protest massacre in the Philippines

November 30th, 2009 - 2:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, Nov 30 (DPA) Local and foreign activists and journalists marched Monday in the Philippine capital to protest the massacre of 57 civilians allegedly perpetrated by political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The rallyists gathered outside the presidential palace in Manila to denounce the Nov 23 brazen mass slaughter of mostly women victims and journalists in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province, 930 kilometres south of Manila.

The angry protesters pelted press secretary Cerge Remonde with bottle caps, grass and small plants uprooted from nearby plant boxes when he tried to explain the government’s position on the killing.

Remonde fled a makeshift stage after the protesters became unruly and blamed the climate of impunity under Arroyo’s rule.

“The government is one with them in condemning what happened in Maguindanao,” he said. “I wish to convey to them that the president and the government is one with them to uphold press freedom and the right to free press.”

“President Arroyo and the government will do everything to ensure that justice is done in the political and media killing,” Remonde added.

It took four days before the main suspect in the massacre that was committed in broad daylight, Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Junior, was taken into custody by the justice department.

Ampatuan Junior is the son of Maguindanao warlord Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Senior, a very close ally of Arroyo who allegedly helped rig the 2004 presidential elections to ensure her victory.

Ampatuan Senior, another son, regional Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, and six other relatives were also being investigated for allegedly conspiring in the carnage.

Norila Daud, president of the Kuala Lumpur-based Confederation of Association of South-East Asian Nations, decried the massacre and urged the government to immediately bring the perpetrators to justice.

“This is an expression of solidarity to our Filipino colleagues,” Daud said. “The incident in Maguindanao has no parallel and has dwarfed the other incidents of violence against journalists … in any part of the world.”

According to witnesses, Ampatuan Junior allegedly led a group of about 100 heavily armed men that stopped a convoy of a political rival and diverted them to the area where they were killed.

The victims were 30 journalists and relatives, lawyers and supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, a rival politician contesting the post of Maguindano governor, which has been held by the main suspect’s father since 2001.

Filipinos are due to vote for president, vice president, senators, congressmen and local officials in May. Elections in the country have traditionally been marred by violence despite gun restrictions during the campaign and polling periods.

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