The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is closely monitoring the investigation into the massacre in Maguindanao on November 23, which left 57 people dead, among them two human rights lawyers and 30 local journalists. The AHRC is deeply concerned for the safety of three journalists who escaped. More than a week into the investigation, no offers or arrangements have been made for their protection by the state. One of the journalists has received death threats before in response to his work exposing summary executions in the area.
The three journalists, whose names have been withheld for security reasons, were part of the convoy of over 50 people, which included the wife and relatives of a powerful politician, Esmael Mangudadatu; several of his political supporters; two of their legal counsels; and over 30 local journalists who were to cover the filing of Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) by Mangudadatu as governor of the province for the May 2010 election.
Esmael had asked his wife, Genalyn and his two sisters, Eden and Farida Sabdula, to file the candidacy on his behalf at the provincial office of the Commission on Election (Comelec) in Shariff Aguak, the provincial capital. Shortly after 8am the group departed in a convoy from the Mangudadatus residence in Buluan, Maguindanao, to the Comelec office. The Mangudadatus are powerful, long-time political rivals of the provincial ruling party, the Ampatuan clan.
In the local context the filing would have been a big event because it would have challenged the Ampatuans in a local election. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the incumbent governor, was reported to have been grooming one of his sons, Andal Ampatuan Jr., to succeed him in the May 2010 general elections.
Before the group proceeded, security arrangements for the convoy had been thoroughly discussed. In one discussion, according to one of the survivors, it took two hours to lay out the security plans for the group, particularly the journalists’ group, because they were aware of the insecurity of the area. Two of the survivors and one of those who died in the massacre, Alejandro Reblando (also known as Bong), who wrote for national broadsheet, The Manila Bulletin, had even contacted Alfredo Cayton, the commanding general of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, to ask his opinion about the security status of the area. His assurance that: ‘Walang problema kung papunta kayo dun’ (there is no problem if you go there to Shariff Aguak town)’ convinced them that they could proceed. Cayton also reiterated that it was safe since there were many checkpoints along the highway stretch that the convoy would use.
However one of the three survivors, following instinct, decided to trail the convoy in his own vehicle. He later decided to break-away from the convoy after he received a phone call telling him that persons were asking whether he was with the group. The two other survivors had chosen to leave the convoy and join him.
When the three went back to the hotel they had been in the night before, to purposely distance themselves from the main group, they were further convinced not to proceed after hearing more from hotel staff about unidentified persons who were looking for them. On their way home the three found out about the massacre. However despite their necessary role in any credible investigation of the killings and their continued risk of assassination, these men have not been offered any state protection.
According to other witnesses one of the perpetrators was Andal Ampatuan Jr., in command of militia forces and policemen in the area. Ampatuan Jr. has been arrested and charged, and is being held in detention at the headquarters of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Manila.
As of 27 November the bodies of thirty local journalists have been recovered, along with those of the dead Mangudadatus and their two legal counsels. One of the journalists is also still missing. The journalists in the convoy were:
1. Adolfo, Benjie of Gold Star Daily, a regional newspaper; a resident of Koronadal City
2. Araneta, Henry of Radio dzRH; a resident of General Santos City
3. Arriola, Mark Gilbert (nickname Mac Mac) of UNTV, a local branch of a television channel; a resident of General Santos City
4. Bataluna, Rubello of Gold Star Daily; a resident of Koronadal City
5. Betia, Arturo of Periodico Ini, a community newspaper; a resident of General Santos City
6. Cabillo, Romeo Jimmy of Midland Review, a community newspaper; a resident of Tacurong City
7. Cablitas, Marites of News Focus; a resident of General Santos City
8. Cachuela, Hannibal of Punto News; a resident of Koronadal City
9. Caniban, John of Periodico Ini; a resident of General Santos City
10. Dalmacio, Lea of Socsargen News, a community newspaper; a resident of General Santos City
11. Decina, Noel of Periodico Ini; a resident of General Santos City
12. Dela Cruz, Gina of Saksi News; a resident of General Santos City
13. Dohillo, Eugene of UNTV; a resident of General Santos City
14. Duhay, Jhoy of Gold Star Daily; a resident of Tacurong City
15. Jun Gatchalian of Davao City
16. Legarte, Bienvenido, Jr. of Prontiera News; a resident of Koronadal City
17. Lupogan, Lindo of Mindanao Daily Gazette, a community newspaper; a resident of Davao City
18. Maravilla, Ernesto (nickname Bart) of Bombo Radyo; a resident of Koronadal City
19. Merisco, Rey of Periodico Ini; a resident of Koronadal City
20. Momay, Reynaldo (nickname Bebot) Momay of Midland Review; a resident of Tacurong City
21. Montaño, Marife (nickname Neneng) of Saksi News; a resident of General Santos City
22. Morales, Rosell of News Focus; a resident of General Santos City
23. Nuñez, Victor of UNTV a resident of General Santos City
24. Perante, Ronnie of Gold Star Daily; a resident of Koronadal City. He was a correspondent for the newspaper.
25. Parcon, Joel of Prontiera News; a resident of Koronadal City
26. Razon, Fernando (nickname Rani) of Periodico Ini; a resident of General Santos City
27. Reblando, Alejandro (nickname Bong) of Manila Bulletin; a resident of General Santos City
28. Salaysay, Napoleon of Mindanao Gazette; a resident of Cotabato City
29. Subang, Ian of Socsargen Today, a community newspaper; a resident of General Santos City
30. Teodoro, Andres (nickname Andy) of Central Mindanao Inquirer, a community newspaper; a resident of Tacurong City
31. Evardo, Jolito of UNTV; a resident of General Santos City. He remains missing.
One of the survivors had already been receiving threats to his life, allegedly from the Ampatuans. The threats began in 2004 when he wrote a special newspaper report that exposed details of summary executions in Maguindanao, which were allegedly linked to the Ampatuans. He said that some of the reports he had obtained described personal or political rivals of the family being cut into pieces by a chainsaw so that their remains would be scattered and less easily traced. Despite this, no credible investigation took place and five years on, no one has been held to account for those killings. In the meantime he was told by a reliable source of a plot to kill him, which involved policeman, and he reports that attempts have been made on his life. His allegations were never investigated by the authorities and no protection was offered.
Please write to the concerned authorities asking for their immediate intervention to ensure the safety of the three journalists who survived the massacre, and to ensure that a thorough credible investigation of this case takes place.
The AHRC has also written letters to the Special Rapporteurs for human rights defenders; on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions and on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion.
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PHILIPPINES: Three journalists who survived the Maguindanao massacre fear for their lives
I am writing to express my utmost concern for the three journalists who escaped the Maguindanao massacre. The survivors had left a convoy of 57 people who were summarily executed shortly after, on 23 November in Maguindanao province in central Mindanao. I am appalled to learn that several days after the massacre the witnesses have not been afforded with any protection from the government, and no official consideration has been given to their safety or security.
The three were part of the group of journalists in the convoy, which included relatives of a local politician, their supporters and two of their legal counsels. The counsels were also human rights lawyers. As it has been widely reported, the dead bodies of the victims were found littered across the site of execution; some were buried in graves and others were buried together with their flattened vehicles. While I appreciate the government’s efforts in its investigation into this case–the arrest of an alleged prime suspect and the removal of several police officials who were allegedly involved from their posts–I am deeply concerned for the three survivors, who have been offered no protection whatsoever.
Before the massacre took place, the three were supposed to be covering the filing of a Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) by a local politician, and one had chosen to tail the convoy in his own vehicle. However, when he started to receive calls from a colleague telling him that some persons were asking whether he was with the convoy, and where he was seated, he decided to delay his journey. Two colleagues chose to join him when they saw him stop in Tacurong City. The three went back to the hotel they had booked for the previous night, but were told by hotel staff that some persons had been looking for them. They decided to completely separate from the group and to return home.
I am told that one of the survivors had already been receiving threats to his life, allegedly from the Ampatuans, since 2004 when he wrote a special newspaper report that exposed details of summary executions in Maguindanao. No credible investigation took place and five years on, no one has been held to account for those killings; instead he was told by a reliable source of a plot to kill him. The plot reportedly involved policeman and he reports that attempts have been made on his life. His allegations were never investigated by the authorities and no protection was offered.
I therefore urge the government, the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in particular, to ensure that these three journalists are immediately afforded adequate protection. I am aware of the DoJ’s efforts to investigate this massacre, however, I expect these to include a concern for the safety of the survivors, who are also valuable witnesses in the case.
PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:
1. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo
Republic of the Philippines
JP Laurel Street, San Miguel
Fax: +63 2 736 1010
Tel: +63 2 735 6201 / 564 1451 to 80
2. Ms. Leila De Lima
Commission on Human Rights
SAAC Bldg., Commonwealth Avenue
U.P. Complex, Diliman
Fax: +63 2 929 0102
Tel: +63 2 928 5655 / 926 6188
3. Deputy Director General Jesus A. Verzosa
Chief, Philippine National Police (PNP)
Camp General Rafael Crame
Fax: +63 2724 8763
Tel: +63 2 726 4361/4366/8763
4. Ms. Agnes Devanadera
Department of Justice (DoJ)
DOJ Bldg., Padre Faura
Fax: +63 2 521 1614
5. Mr. Emilio Gonzalez
Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military
and Other Law Enforcement Offices
3rd Floor, Ombudsman Bldg., Agham Road, Diliman
1104 Quezon City
Fax: +63 2 926 8747
Tel: +63 2 926 9032
6. Dr. Esperanza I. Cabral
Department of Social Welfare and Development
DSWD Bldg., Constitution Hills, Batasan Complex,
Tel: +63 2 931 8191 / 931 8068
Telefax: +63 2 931 8191
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (email@example.com)