Aquino urged to revoke order on civilian militias
MANILA, Philippines - It has been 3 years since the private army of a powerful political clan was linked to the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao, yet the Aquino administration has made no progress in demobilizing militias and paramilitary forces, an international human rights group said Thursday, November 22.
A day before the third anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre, Human Rights Watch urged President Benigno Aquino III anew to fulfill his election promise and revoke Executive Order 546 issued by then president and now Pampanga Rep Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2006.
“Three years since the horrors of the Maguindanao Massacre, the trial crawls along, half of the suspects remain at large, and the victims’ families still face threats,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Yet the larger problem is that the Aquino administration has done next to nothing to disband the rest of the country’s private armies,” he added.
EO 546 allows local officials to deploy Citizen Armed Force Geographical Units and Civilian Volunteer Organizations as auxiliary bodies for the Armed Forces of the Philippines to fight insurgents.
But Human Rights Watch said the alleged mastermind of the massacre, the Ampatuan family, invoked EO 546 to justify the recruitment of private army members in the guise of fighting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and other rebel groups in the province.
Three years ago on November 23, a group of about 200 armed men attacked the convoy of supporters of then Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu, leaving 58 people dead, including 20 Mangudadatu relatives and supporters, 32 members of the media and 6 passersby.
Senior members of the Ampatuan family, including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr and his sons, are now in jail and on trial for the killings. While 99 suspects have been arrested, the rest of the 197 identified suspects remain at large.
Journalists have slammed the slow pace of the three-year trial, which Human Rights Watch said has mostly revolved around the 56 bail petitions filed before the court. Just recently, the Supreme Court reversed an earlier decision to allow media coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial, which relatives of the victims hoped would have helped speed up the proceedings.
Election violence again?
As the country prepares for the May 2013 elections, there are renewed concerns that EO 546 will once again be used by politicians to arm their private groups.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government earlier identified 15 poll hotspots that were chosen based on several factors, including the existence of private armed groups. Maguindanao is among the four provinces tagged in Mindanao.
“Aquino pledged during the campaign that he would revoke Executive Order 546, but he has reneged on that promise,” Adams said.
“With one stroke of a pen, he can make good on his commitment for the good of all Filipinos," he added.
In addition to the call to repeal EO 546, Human Rights Watch also urged the President to:
- Issue an executive order banning all paramilitary and militia forces
- Issue an executive order requiring all government officials to report firearms acquired for professional or personal use for themselves or immediate family members
- Amend Executive Order 194 to limit the number and caliber of firearms that civilians can own.
- Order an appropriate government agency, such as the Commission on Audit, to investigate whether public funds have been used directly or indirectly for creating, arming, and supporting militia forces, and if so, the source of the funds.