The head of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines has condemned the massacre of 57 people in the worst election violence to hit the country on Monday.
Authorities have charged Andal Ampatuan Jr, a local mayor and leader of the clan believed to be behind the killings in Maguindanao province. He turned himself in on Thursday but said he had nothing to do with the ambush on a convoy of vehicles carrying relatives and supporters of his political rival, Esmael Mangudadatu.
The passengers, among them 22 journalists, were being driven to a local electoral office to file nomination papers for the approaching election of the provincial governor when they were abducted by around 100 armed men and shot at close range on a remote hilltop. Their bodies, bearing signs of mutilation, were then dumped in shallow graves.
NCCP General Secretary Rev Fr Rex RB Reyes Jr said: “This massacre is a grim reminder of the pervading culture of impunity and the lack of respect for human rights that has been in our midst and that has turned for the worse since 2001.
Mr Ampatuan Jr was flown to the capital Manila for questioning, while 20 suspects have been rounded up in towns run by the Ampatuan clan, allies of President Gloria Arroyo.
The President declared a national day of mourning and has imposed emergency rule in Maguindanao and the Ampatuan-dominated city of Cotabato.
The President has vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice but Rev Reyes Jr is angry at the government’s failure to stop attacks by “warlords” on civilians.
“We are indignant of the lack of political will of the government to stop these killings,” he said. “The gruesome massacre of unarmed civilians is also a painful reminder that government statements to the dismantling of political warlordism have been mere rhetoric.”
Mangudadatu, whose wife and sisters were among the victims, registered his candidacy on Friday.
“Only death can stop me from running for governor,” he told reporters after submitting his nomination papers on Friday, according to Reuters.
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