Kris-Crossing Mindanao

State of impunity

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The glaring non-mention of the infamous Ampatuan massacre in President Aquino’s speech at the 9th Media Nation Summit last Friday in Tagaytay City revealed how the administration is taking the issue of impunity three years after 58 innocent lives were mercilessly murdered in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.

The belated attempts (blaming the absence of a live coverage of the trial) of Malacañang’s talking heads to deflect criticisms hurled by media organizations, human rights groups and relatives of the massacre victims are simply appalling, to say the least. It only exposes the apparent lack of resolve by the administration to deliver justice to the victims, as it promised during the 2010 presidential elections.

Indeed, such a lack of resolve, particularly by the Aquino administration, only feeds to the continuing “cycle of impunity.” “The first to go is outrage; the next, memory; the last, resolve. The one thing that remains, after all these are gone, is regret. This is how impunity prevails,” said human rights lawyer Theodore Te.

Yet, three years after the Ampatuan massacre and more than two years after Simeon Benigno Aquino III assumed the presidency, we have yet to witness, for example, the dismantling of paramilitaries and private armies of political warlords, which proliferate all over the country. President Aquino did not repeal his predecessor’s Executive Order 546, which allows politicians to form their own militias.

EO 546 is the same diktat that previously empowered and emboldened the Ampatuans during the disgraced Arroyo regime. Maybe the Aquino administration retained EO 546, having in mind it will be useful for its own political plans and those of its allies in the coming 2013 polls.

The pooled editorial last Friday of several Davao-based media outlets aptly captured what Mr. Aquino left out in his speech. Thus the editorial put it: “If anything, the Ampatuan Massacre is grim proof not only of the violent nature of Philippine politics but of how impunity can harm us. And since Nov. 23, 2009, we have been regularly confronted with more atrocities that, while probably not as horrifying as what had transpired in the hills of Maguindanao that day, serve to remind us constantly that impunity still reigns.

“Extrajudicial killings remain rampant, ironically under an administration that promised to be the exact opposite of the brutal regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who single-handedly plunged us back to the dark days of the Marcos dictatorship. Enforced disappearances remain a problem. Torture, both by the police and the military, remains standard operating procedure. Individuals and groups who dare to challenge the authorities and big business interests end up eliminated. We’re reminded of Father Fausto Tentorio, who was murdered in October last year. We’re reminded of Jimmy Liguyon, a tribal leader who opposed big mining operations in Bukidnon and who was murdered in March in front of his family.

“We’re reminded of Juvy Capion and her children, who were killed in October this year under circumstances that suggest a massacre by state security forces. We’re reminded of the dozens of Filipinos who fell victim to assassins’ bullets in many urban centers across the country.  These atrocities can only happen in a climate of impunity.”

Those are the same sentiments shared by Myrna Reblando, widow of journalist Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, one of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. The widow even campaigned for President Aquino in 2010, but she is now seeking political asylum in Hong Kong due to the threats she has received.

“I am dismayed, annoyed and saddened because I think the Aquino administration is not serious in giving true assistance to the families of the victims of the massacre,” she said in a video message from Hong Kong last Friday to the members of the Alliance Against Impunity in Mindanao (AIM). “The system of governance in the country is rotten. But I’m not saying that there is no way to change this. There is a way to reform our governance if all leaders and people will unite.”

The same frustrations were expressed by Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of the 58th Ampatuan massacre victim Reynaldo Momay, a photojournalist whose remains have not been found yet, except for his dentures. In a statement posted by the Davao-based online agency Mindanews, she said: “It frustrates me that sometimes the government sees us as if it’s just money that we all need…. We are now commemorating the date of the incident, their death anniversary. But how I wish that, soon, we will celebrate victory because justice is served. We deserve speedy justice. Impunity must end now.” The entire Castillo family recently migrated to another country.

While the Aquino administration has yet to successfully prosecute a single case of extrajudicial killing committed under the previous administration, 114 more extrajudicial killings have been documented by human rights groups in the past two years. Also, in the same period, 14 more journalists were killed, five of them this year.

We have to remember: In 2009, 58 lives were slaughtered in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. On Oct. 17, 2011, environmental advocate Father Tentorio was killed in Arakan, Cotabato. Last Oct. 18, 2012, army soldiers massacred pregnant antimining activist Juvy Capion and her two children in Tampakan, South Cotabato.

Yes, from Arroyo’s Ampatuan to Mr. Aquino’s Arakan and Tampakan, the state of impunity continues to reign.

But the peoples’ rage, recall and resolve keep burning as well. Never forget. Never again!

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