“Disarming the private armies of warlords is of paramount import in the course of the coming elections,” Bishop Felixberto Calang of the Philippine Independent Church told Ecumenical News International from the southern Philippine city of Cagayan de Oro. “Let us call for the repudiation of private armies and work for a people-friendly and just environment so that we can have fair, free and honest elections.”
Calang issued the call following the killing on 23 November of a convoy of supporters of political leader Esmael Mangadadatu in Maguindanao province along with journalists who were covering their march.
The Associated Press reported on 25 November that the attack had left 57 people dead, including at least 18 reporters. The dead included AP stringer Alejandro “Bong” Reblando.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Fernando Capalla, a spokesperson for the Bishops Ulama Conference, a Christian-Muslim group, said that “Islamic and Christian faiths condemn in the strongest possible terms the abduction and killing.” Similar calls have come from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and media organizations in the Philippines and abroad.
Mangadadatu’s supporters had intended to file his candidacy for governor in elections scheduled for May 2010.
The mayor of Datu Unsay, Andal Ampatuan Jr, the son of the incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, was emerging as a suspect in the attack, The Australian newspaper reported. It noted that the Philippines’ secretary for defence had called for the immediate arrest of Ampatuan Jr.
Feuding clans with private armies control large sections of Mindanao in the south and other parts of the Philippines.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines lamented that two days after the carnage, no suspects had been taken into custody.
“Political warlordism is a manifestation of a feudal social order and we join the call that it should now be a thing of the past,” said the church council in a 25 November statement that called for an end to “a culture of impunity”.
From New York, the advocacy organization Human Rights Watch said that since 2001, when President Arroyo took office, hundreds of left-wing political party members, human rights activists, journalists, and outspoken clergy have been killed or have forcibly disappeared. Yet only six cases have been
successfully prosecuted, and it said the Arroyo administration has not sufficiently investigated the numerous killings in which the military has been implicated.