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HRW slams Aquino over paramilitaries

Government 'has failed to disarm militias despite election pledge' reporter, Manlia

November 22, 2012

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Little has been done to disarm and demobilize militias and paramilitary forces three years after the massacre of 58 people in the province of Maguindanao, Human Rights Watch said today.

“Three years since the horrors of the Maguindanao massacre, the trial crawls along, half of the suspects remain at large, and the victims’ families still face threats,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. 

“Yet the larger problem is that the [government] has done next to nothing to disband the rest of the country’s private armies,” Adams added.

The massacre brought to light the dangers posed by private armies, militias and paramilitaries in the Philippines, but the administration of President Benigno Aquino has not seriously addressed the problem, the New York-based rights group said. 

It urged Aquino to ignore politicians, especially in Mindano where they justify militias ostensibly to fight Islamist rebels, and disarm military-backed paramilitary groups.

There are concerns militias will be used by powerful politicians during elections next year. The government has already identified 15 provinces as “election hotspots” where political violence is likely to occur ahead of elections in May.

The Aquino administration claims that it has “neutralized” 28 so-called “private armies,” but as recently as last week it said 107 other armed groups were still active. 

“Aquino pledged during his campaign that he would revoke [an order to arm militias], but he has reneged on that promise,” Adams said. “With one stroke of a pen, he can make good on his commitment for the good of all Filipinos.”

Human Rights Watch said “not only is it important that the victims of the Maguindanao massacre get justice but that the government acts to ensure an atrocity like this will never happen again.”

On November 23, 2009, some 200 armed men executed 58 people – 20 relatives and supporters of a local politician, 32 journalists, and six others.

The massacre, the worst in recent Philippines history, resulted in charges against senior members of a political clan that ruled through a “private army” comprising 2,000 to 5,000 armed men that included government-supported militia, local police, and military personnel. 

Several members of the clan are awaiting trial for the massacre. But of the 197 identified suspects, only 99 were arrested. 

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