Relatives of 57 people massacred in 2009 in the southern Philippines sued former Philippines president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo yesterday over the killings, which they claim she could have prevented.
At least two Arroyo allies, including a former governor of an autonomous Muslim region, are among about 100 suspects being tried on murder charges in the country’s worst politically motivated bloodbath, which occurred two years ago today. The dead included 32 media workers, making it the worst single killing of journalists in the world.
Arroyo was arrested last week on charges she ordered former Maguindanao provincial governor Andal Ampatuan Sr and another official to commit election fraud two years before the massacre. Arroyo has condemned and denied any knowledge of the killings, but lawyer Harry Roque said she should have known Ampatuan and his son were a danger.
Roque filed the lawsuit yesterday, seeking 15 million pesos (US$346,000) in damages. In court documents, he argued that Arroyo turned a blind eye to a decade of human rights abuses in the region and “instead she cultivated ties with the Ampatuans, who would prove indispensable to her continued hold on political power.”
Reporters, drivers and assistants were accompanying family and supporters of the Ampatuans’ political rival en route to file for candidacy in regional elections when gunmen allegedly led by former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr stopped them and led them to a hilltop clearing where they were mowed down and hastily buried in mass graves.
The Ampatuans were political allies of Arroyo, but after the massacre she expelled them from her ruling party. She also declared martial law in Maguindanao province, enabling the army and police to round up the suspects and attempt to restore order.
Roque said although there is no evidence Arroyo masterminded the massacre, “she not only funded and armed the Ampatuans, but gave them the sense of influence. She could have prevented it. She knew about possible dangers.”
Arroyo lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said: “Talk is easy, but the evidence has to be solid to pass those who will review it.”
Arroyo, who stepped down last year, was arrested in her hospital suite on Friday on charges that she ordered Andal Ampatuan Sr and a former elections official to rig 2007 congressional polls in Maguindanao to favor her candidates. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing.
The elder Ampatuan was implicated by his son, Zaldy Ampatuan, who wants to become a state witness in the electoral fraud case. Zaldy Ampatuan is also charged in the massacre and the victims’ relatives strongly oppose allowing him to become a prosecution witness in Arroyo’s case, which could lead to more lenient treatment for himself in the murder trial.
Meanwhile, Arroyo’s lawyer expressed outrage yesterday that police mugshots taken of her in hospital were leaked to the media.
The three photos show a tired-looking Arroyo, who says she is suffering from a bone disease, wearing a bulky neck brace and head strap with her unbrushed black hair showing flecks of gray.
“The former president does not deserve this and neither should an ordinary person be subjected to this because everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence,” one of Arroyo’s lawyers, Ferdinand Topacio, said on GMA television. “Every person should be treated with dignity, be they former presidents or ordinary laborers. Our judicial system is supposed to operate on that principle.”