By Hyo-Jin Paik
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
AMPATUAN, Philippines– A lead suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., accused of a massacre, which killed at least 57 people in the Philippines, has been turned over to the authorities by his family on Thursday.
Ampatuan Jr.’s family is a powerful pro-government clan allied with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Since the massacre, there has been mounting pressure from the public to crack down on lawless acts and warlords.
According to Asia Foundation, more than 80% of families in Maguindanao province, the scene of Monday’s massacre, have been made homeless due to clan violence.
About 250 prominent political families exist in the Philippines with family members who hold positions in various levels of the government. The Ampatuan clan has been ruling the Philippines’ Maguindanao province for years.
Andal Ampatuan Sr. is the provincial governor of the Maguindanao province and has been grooming his son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., to succeed him in next year’s upcoming elections.
However, Ampatuan Jr. is accused of allegedly stopping a convoy with more than 100 armed police and militiamen, and killing journalists, family and supporters of the Ampatuan clan’s rival gubernatorial candidate, Esmael Mangudadatu.
The Mangudadatu clan was ambushed as they were traveling to go file the election papers nominating Mangudadatu as the candidate for next year’s provincial governor.
A witness to the massacre said the victims were taken to a remote mountainous area. The witness said, “Datu Andal himself said…anyone from the Mangudadatu clan – women or children – should be killed.”
The witness added that Ampatuan Jr. also ordered the gunmen to make sure that no evidence of the killings was left behind and that all of the women were raped before they were killed.
Authorities have found bodies of the victims in a mass grave at the massacre site. Bodies were found in large pits buried with vehicles.
Investigators have said that it appears that the victims were shot at a close range before being dumped in shallow graves. Some victims also had their hands tied behind their backs.
To prevent retaliatory violence from the victims’ clan, the government has declared a state of emergency throughout the Maguindanao province and has deployed tanks and troops.
Human Rights Watch has expressed concern that the Ampatuan clan’s family connections with President Arroyo and the administration would hinder an impartial investigation.
For more information, please see:
Al Jazeera – Philippines’ key suspect surrenders – 27 November 2009
AP – Prime suspect in Philippine massacre surrenders – 26 November 2009
NYT – Suspect in Philippine Election Killings Surrenders – 25 November 2009