x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Murdered Filipino journalists laid to rest

Eight journalists who were among 57 people murdered in a bloody massacre in the southern Philippines last month are laid to rest.

MANILA // Eight journalists who were among 57 people murdered in a bloody massacre in the southern Philippines last month were laid to rest yesterday as the military recovered an arsenal of weapons and ammunition from the home of the alleged mastermind and son of a provincial governor. At the same time the United Nation's special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Philip Alston, and Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, called for an independent and "thorough investigation" in to the November 23 killings.

"The premeditated killing of political opponents, combined with a massive assault on the media, must be tackled at various levels that go well beyond standard murder investigations," the UN officials said in a statement. "This will require a thorough-going investigation of the broader context to be undertaken by a credible and independent body appointed with full legal powers to carry out an effective inquiry," they said.

In General Santos City flowers rained down on the coffins of eight of the 30 journalists killed in the massacre. "It is very difficult to deal with the pain," said Eliver Cablitas, the husband of Marites Cablitas, 38, publisher of the tabloid News Focus, who left behind three teenagers. "I myself went to the crime scene and had to identify her body," he said. The journalists' coffins were placed on a flatbed truck bedecked with flowers. A convoy of motorcycles, cars and lorries followed them from a church in General Santos City to the cemetery. Clusters of residents along the way showered them with flower petals and coins.

Among the dead were the wife, sisters and supporters of Ismail Mangudadatu, who sent them to submit his candidacy papers for governor after he had received death threats from a rival family, the Ampatuans. Twenty-one of the 57 people killed were women. Just before dawn a convoy of Philippine troops arrived in the Maguindanao provincial capital, Shariff Aguak, where they surrounded the home of Andal Ampatuan Jr, the son of the governor, who has been charged with 25 counts of murder for leading the massacre.

Reports said as many as 500 heavily armed troops fanned out around the compound as the search began. In some rooms of the mansion, walls were knocked down to reveal well-stocked armouries with some of the latest weapons issued to the military. The raid was conducted a day after a large arms cache was discovered buried in a vacant lot next to the mansion of Mr Ampatuan's brother, Zaldy Ampatuan Jr, who is governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

The military has so far taken light artillery and heavy infantry weapons, explosives, ammunition and military uniforms from the site and were still digging late yesterday. The ammunition boxes had Armscor markings indicating they came from the government arsenal. Some of the boxes were dated June 2009 - the date of manufacture. Lt Col Romeo Brawner, a military spokesman, said Gen Victor Ibrado, the armed forces chief, had ordered an immediate investigation to determine how weapons and ammunition clearly marked for the military and police found their way into the vacant lot.

Andal Ampatuan Jr remains detained at the National Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Manila. Several other members of the powerful Ampatuan clan are being investigated for their possible involvement. Meanwhile, the department of justice said it was about to issue subpoenas against five members of the Ampatuan clan. * Additional reporting by the Associated Press