Outrage in Philippines at election bid by clan accused over massacre

Ampatuan family's influence underlines 'culture of impunity' in Philippines, say critics

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2012, 3:11am

Dozens of members of a clan whose leaders are on trial for the Philippines' worst political massacre are candidates in elections next year - some for the president's party, media and rights groups said yesterday.

The revelations sparked outrage on the three-year anniversary of the massacre, in which 58 people were killed, with critics saying the Ampatuan family's enduring political influence underlined the country's "culture of impunity".

"That some clan members are running under the banner of President [Benigno] Aquino's party is a serious cause for concern because it imparts a damaging message that impunity is alive and well," Human Rights Watch's Carlos Conde said.

Leaders of the clan, then allied to Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are accused of carrying out the massacre to stop a local rival from filing his candidacy for Maguindanao province governor in 2010 elections.

Andal Ampatuan Snr, the patriarch and then governor of the province, plus four of his sons, are on trial, accused of planning or participating in the massacre. They deny the charges.

Eighty-two people in total are on trial, many of whom were allegedly members of the Ampatuans' private army that helped to consolidate the family's almost complete control of the province over the previous decade.

The victims included 32 media workers who were travelling in a convoy to report on the opposition candidate's attempt to file election papers. The Ampatuans and their gunmen allegedly stopped the convoy and shot everyone dead.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Arroyo was forced to cut political ties with the tainted family, and its power base in Maguindanao appeared to have been diminished.

But 72 members of the clan are running again as candidates in next year's elections, including nine for Aquino's Liberal Party, said the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

"Even as fear of reprisals continue to haunt witnesses and plaintiffs in the case, the government of Mr Aquino and other major political parties in the country have embraced the Ampatuan clan," the union and six other media groups said.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper said in an editorial yesterday: "How can the political parties not know that support for Ampatuan candidates feeds the very impunity that led to the massacre?"

Meanwhile, the trial drags on with no sign of an end.

Three witnesses for the prosecution have been killed over the past three years.