Governor Charged in Philippines Massacre as UN Officials Urge Probe

Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. was charged in last week’s massacre in the Phillippines, in which his gunmen allegedly killed political rivals in the worst case of election violence in the nation’s history.

The significance of the massacre of 57 people in the Philippine province of Maguindanao has deepened with charges being filed against a governor whose clan is closely linked to the country’s president.

Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr, who turned himself in last week, has been charged with crimes connected to the killings of members of a rival political group, officials at the Phillipines’ national bureau of investigation announced Thursday. An additional seven members from the governor’s clan have also been charged in the incident, the worst election-related violence in the country’s history.

On Thursday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo attended a wake for the victims and vowed to serve justice and use the full force of the law to find the perpetrators responsible for the killing, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

Human rights officials at the United Nations have also begun applying pressure to the Filipino government to conduct an in-depth investigation of the killings to prevent such an act of violence from occurring again, reports The New York Times.

The massacre “must be seen as a watershed moment for the country,” said Philip Alston, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, and Frank La Rue, the special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, in a statement posted on the U.N. Web site. The killings, they said, “demanded a more extensive reflection on the elite family-dominated manipulation of the political processes and the need to eliminate such practices.”

The killings took place on Nov. 23 when police allege that Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 100 of his gunmen ambushed a convoy of political campaigners for the rival of Ampatuan Sr. for provincial governor. About 30 journalists were also among the convoy, reports Al Jazeera in a video news report. Esmael Mangudadatu, the rival candidate, says the attack was designed to stop him from running. A key witness known only as “Boy” says that Ampatuan Sr. personally ordered the killings, although questions are rising about the veracity of witness statements and other evidence.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines has announced that it will conduct its own investigation of the event in conjunction with the International Federation of Journalists and other Southeast Asian media groups. The group hopes to potentially file a class action lawsuit against those responsible for the murder of their colleagues. In an interview with the Filipino news site the Inquirer, Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director for the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said, “We are looking at all possible legal cases that can be filed as a way of showing that we will fight.”

Among the citizens of Maguindanao, there is little hope that the killings or subsequent investigations will change the culture of strongman politics, writes the Inter Press Service in a news analysis.

Elections will not change the situation in Maguindanao, Catholic priest Orlando Quevedo, archbishop of the diocese of Cotabato, was quoted as saying in the local media.

“We have not tried to change this culture of political convenience and thus allowed a culture of impunity to endure through successive administrations. Elections have not and will not change this situation. We simply get more of the same,” he said.