Impuni -Tree by Ramon FVelasquez

5 years after the Ampatuan massacre, impunity remains

The Ampatuan Massacre

How do we achieve peace in Mindanao? It’s been five years now since the ‘Maguindanao Massacre’, also known as the #AmpatuanMassacre where 58 people were kidnapped and brutally killed in broad daylight. It was on the morning of November 23 in the year 2009, that 58 people were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan Town, province of Maguindanao, in the southernmost island of the Philippines, Mindanao, when they were waylaid, and were brutally killed. Among the victims were journalists, Mangudadatu’s wife, his two sisters, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were unlucky to be witnesses to the horrible crime. Who did it, why, and how?

The most important question is how could a crime of such scale be done in broad daylight and no one is coming forward to implicate anyone of the crime. The answer is simple: Fear.

There is a common belief that the presence of journalists is one of the effective ways to deter crime. How about in this case? At least 34 journalists were known to have died in that massacre. The estimate was that more than a hundred individuals took part in the execution of the crime. It’s very likely that there was premeditation, the attack was not just plain opportunity. It also meant that more than a hundred families were directly or indirectly involved.  The assailants are fathers, brothers, sons. Often their work is cruicial for the survival of a family.

The Zamboanga Siege

The head of Human Rights Mindanao left his office after the Zamboanga siege. Zamboanga is part of the island, Mindanao. When asked why, he said, he cannot stay in office when he is being told to do something which is not a solution for the ongoing problems in Mindanao. When asked, who was left to man his post, he answered, there is nobody.

The Zamboanga siege happened in September 9 in the year 2013, when rebel factions in Mindanao attempted to take over the municipal government of the province of Zamboanga and wrestle power and governance from the Philippine Government. The attempt was a failure. The siege, however, has caused displacement to hundreds of families, who, up to this day, more than a year later, were still camped in tents and still have no stable means of livelihood that some women have turned to prostitution just to help make ends meet.

The Head of Human Rights Mindanao,  was there in the middle of the fight, relaying information from the ground. Handling the information received from him, requests were made to the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines for ceasefire. The ceasefire was granted, and a curfew was implemented by sundown.

“Don’t tell that to someone who was there, who felt bullets whizzing past his head, as he performs his duty to protect the people, with almost zero funds, taking most of the money spent on human rights expenses straight from his own pockets”,

these were the words that Human Rights Mindanao Executive Officer said, after his resignation, when told that quitting at this time is irresponsible when you knew too well that nobody as equally capable as him will be left behind to take over the post. “You do not know what it is like, you’ve never been there, the way I was there.”

The needs, he claims, were more immediate. The needs are now, as in right now. They cannot afford to look far into the future, because if they don’t help as soon as possible, there won’t be anybody who will take those educational packages and free training anymore.

He said that he is asking for help, because a young girl is being raped, an old man is dying of illness, others are going hungry, and nobody is listening. He said, everybody is bent on implementing outlined projects on education and training. Funds from outside sources were offered, but these were outlined for making the people productive by providing them with the proper training to help them qualify for the jobs that will help them out of poverty. The needs, he claims, were more immediate. The needs are now, as in right now. They cannot afford to look far into the future, because if they don’t help as soon as possible, there won’t be anybody who will take those educational packages and free training anymore. They would’ve been raped, wasted or killed either by disease or poverty. When asked, why didn’t you accept the outside funding, he said, the money isn’t meant to ease the present problems. Not to respond to pleas for help, when you are able to, is like helping to kill them. When asked, did they actually tell you not to help those who were asking for help? His indirect answer was, those in the position to help were busy conducting training and are not responding to his requests for assistance on behalf of the people in need. When asked, “Why didn’t you accept the funds, and use the funds to help those who are asking for your help, forget about what was written in the contract, since, is he aware of the ‘duty to disobey an unlawful order’, nobody can and should tell him not to help anyone who is dying and is in immediate danger, especially if it is within his capacity to do so. He fell silent.

The Donations never reach the beneficiaries

Poverty and war are two things were corruption finds opportunity in abundance.

Claims from folks in Mindanao have been voiced more than once, that poverty and war has been encouraged to attract more donations from outside sources. Donations which they claim, never reach the intended beneficiaries. When the Department of Social Welfare and Development created a nationwide program of distributing stipend to the poor, secret messages were sent to Manila informing the media that the local office responsible for the local distribution in Mindanao have been padding the list of beneficiaries.

What actually is the core problem in Mindanao and the cause of Human Rights abuses that still continue to occur day by day? Fear, in the hearts of people, who have been afraid almost their entire life, can mutate into rebellion, which is the least of what’s needed in moving forward towards progress. That’s why, the Philippine Government have been sending soldiers who are engineers to help build schools, soldiers and policemen who are teachers to teach children in schools. These are all a part of the peace that the Philippine Government is offering to the people in Mindanao.

We commemorate that fateful day five years ago, in November 23, 2009, when 58 people were brutally killed, the women were raped and shot at in broad daylight in Ampatuan Town in the province of Maguindanao, several journalists will be lighting candles at the site of the crime. If the ongoing peace talks will succeed in gaining the trust of the local people in Mindanao, there is hope, that one day the abuses will stop, provided that that trust will not be broken, promises will be kept, prompt social services will be delivered, and justice will be handed down upon those who inflict harm.



1. The interview with Human Rights Mindanao Head Zainudin Malang was done by me on Jun 13, 2014 via Facebook private messages.


About Christine Delfin

CNN contributor from Filippines. Coordinated with the ICRC and the Green Crescent relaying urgent requests for medical aid for the injured in war stricken areas. Coordinated with locals in arranging effective and safe routes to extract Filipino workers out of war stricken areas. Christine has obtained certificates in International Human Rights Law by Duke University and in International Criminal Law by Case Western University.

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