Metro Manila, Philippines – The country on Monday experienced what a government official describes as an “unprecedented crime against humanity.”
Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III said in a radio interview Tuesday that the daring and bloody attack against some 40 people in Maguindanao province yesterday apparently due to politics is beyond comprehension.
The party of Buluan, Maguindanao Vice Mayor Datu Ismail Mangudadatu, headed by his wife Genalyn and joined by several members of the local media, was on the way to Shariff Aguak town on Monday morning to file the former’s certificate of candidacy for Governor when they were allegedly stopped by armed men suspected to be belonging to the rival Ampatuan political clan.
More than 20 were found dead later in the day, according to police and military officials, although the figure rose in succeeding reports.
“The President condemned in the strongest terms the violence in Maguindanao today,” said a statement of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo posted on the government’s official website Monday afternoon.
“Civilized society has no place for this kind of violence,” she said.
Noting that at least 12 members of the media were among those killed in the incident, Reporters Without Borders said in its website that “never in the history of journalism have the news media suffered such a heavy loss of life in one day.”
“We call for a strong reaction from the local and national authorities,” the press freedom group said.
The government statement said Arroyo immediately directed the Armed Forces through Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, and the police through Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno to “conduct immediate and relentless pursuit of the perpetrators to secure the affected areas.”
“No efforts will be spared to bring justice to the victims and hold the perpetrators accountable to the full limit of the law,” she said.
Told about the Ampatuan’s close association with Arroyo that may influence the investigation and pursuit against the suspects, Bello said: “There will be no sacred cows… Our laws do not side with anybody… Whoever is responsible for this should be held accountable.”
The incident elicited emotional reactions from many Filipinos, condemning not just the violent political climate in the country, especially in Islamic provinces, but also the attack against members of the so-called fourth estate./END