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Fear still grips Ampatuan as hundreds of families remain in evacuation centers

Press Release
January 26, 2010

DAVAO CITY  –  Kalinaw Mindanao presented to the public today its report which revealed that hundreds of evacuees are still unable to return to their homes due to the climate of fear that persists in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, two months after the massacre.

Kalinaw Mindanao, an alliance composed of human rights groups, lawyers groups, and Moro and church-based organizations, conducted a National Interfaith Mission for Peace and Justice in Maguindanao from January 22 to 26.

According to the findings of the Mission, around 500 families living near the massacre site in Brgy. Salman are forced to live in deplorable conditions in evacuation centers due to the continued presence of the Ampatuan clan’s private armies and the government military forces in the area. The evacuees live in cramped makeshift tents, rely on dole-outs, and receive no medical attention even though children are getting sick from the lack of food and sanitation.

“These evacuees are the hidden victims of human rights violations caused by the warlordism of the Ampatuans and heavy militarization in the province,” said Bai Ali Indayla of Kalinaw Mindanao.

The evacuees, police and military officials all confirmed the presence of unidentified armed men roaming in the area. There are also threats of civilian houses being burned. Last January 12, 8 houses in Sitio Agapok, Bgy. Salman were burned down.

Maguindanao police director Sr. Supt. Alex Lineses also told the Mission members that several civilians were arrested while martial law was imposed on the province, and that these civilians remain in detention. It is not clear whether formal charges have been brought against them.

The Mission also reported that majority of the evacuees are eyewitnesses to the massacre, but are too afraid to come forward. It was also established that there was the presence of about 400 elements of the Philippine National Police in the Ampatuan municipal hall, only about one kilometer from the entrance to the massacre site from the national highway. “The massacre could have been prevented had the authorities only performed their duty,” the report stated.

Kalinaw Mindanao convener and Karapatan secretary general Lovella de Castro said that the plight of the civilians, who are also victims of the Ampatuan massacre, should be addressed. “They will not live normal and peaceful lives unless the Ampatuans are swiftly brought to justice, its private armies completely dismantled, and all police and military authorities made to answer for their complicity in the crime,” de Castro stated.

De Castro also added that the Ampatuan massacre has brought the number of extrajudicial killings under the Arroyo government to 1,188, of which none of the perpetrators have been punished.

“We will continue to demand the accountability of Gloria Arroyo for the Ampatuan massacre and other human rights violations, even after the elections. We cannot move forward as a nation, unless Arroyo and the Ampatuans are punished. Unless this happens, expect that the climate of fear and culture of impunity in Maguindanao and elsewhere in the country will continue,” she concluded.