Philippine massacre victims' kin sue ex-president

AP News
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Posted: Nov 22, 2011 7:07 AM
Philippine massacre victims' kin sue ex-president

Relatives of 57 people massacred in the Philippines' worst political violence sued former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Tuesday, claiming she could have prevented the killings.

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 massacre that occurred two years ago Wednesday. The dead included 32 media workers, making it the worst single killing of journalists in the world.

Arroyo was arrested last week on charges that she ordered the former 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 that Ampatuan and his son were a danger.

Roque filed the lawsuit Tuesday, seeking 15 million pesos ($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 town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. stopped them and led them to a hilltop clearing where they were mowed down and hastily buried in mass graves.

Relatives and colleagues of the journalists who died visited the massacre site Tuesday, the eve of the killings' second anniversary. They offered prayers and 58 white lilies and lighted candles. A Catholic priest celebrated Mass at the mound where concrete markers bearing the names of dead were erected.

Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of journalist Reynaldo Momay _ the 58th victim whose body has not yet been found _ could not hold back tears as she spoke to reporters. "I have been waiting for two years. ...I have also been denied justice for the two years that I've been searching for my father."

Arroyo expelled the Ampatuans from her ruling party after the massacre and declared martial law in Maguindanao province, enabling the army and police to round up the suspects and attempt to restore order.

Roque said that although there is no evidence that 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."

The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided not to temporarily stop Arroyo's arrest on charges of electoral cheating. Oral arguments were set for Nov. 29.

The elder Ampatuan was implicated in the electoral fraud case by his son, Zaldy Ampatuan, who wants to become a state witness. 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 leniency for him in the murder trial.

Amnesty International lamented the slow pace of the trial, saying "the Philippine government has to show that it has the ability to render justice."

The group criticized significant delays in the hearings and the fact that 100 of the 197 acccused are at large. It noted that Zaldy Ampatuan still has not been arraigned.

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Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Teresa Cerojano contributed to this report.