Threats to families of victims a testament to prevailing impunity, rights group say

THE injustice does not end with the massacre of their kin. The continued threats to the families of the victims are a testament to the prevailing impunity that should be strongly condemned.”

This was the statement of rights group Hustisya, as they joined the families of the Ampatuan massacre victims in commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity, November 23.

“Three years is already too long for such a high-profile case, and we anger at seing more families joining our ranks because they have lost sons and daughters, mothers and fathers. What is more painful is that as if killing their relatives is not enough, that they continue to be subject to threats and harassment,” said Cristina Guevarra, Hustisya secretary general.

In the morning, the group joined indigenous people and farmers from Mindanao in a trooping at Aquino ancestral home at Times St., Quezon City to demand justice for the Ampatuan massacre victims, and victims of the recent killings of indigenous people in Mindanao, most of them anti-mining activists.

According to Guevarra, they are alarmed at the continued threat and harassment that families of the Ampatuan massacre victims face, saying that this is also experienced by slain indigenous people leaders, most of them coming from Mindanao.

Adelfa Belayong, known in the community as Bae Nayhugpungan, is the widow of slain Datu Mampaagi Belayong, a staunch anti-mining advocate and leader of the Higaonon community in Agusan del Sur. Datu Mampaagi died in the arms of her wife, and was able to tell Adelfa the perpetrator of the crime whom he identified as Datu Manlapangan, a leader of the Task Force Gantangan-Bagani Force/Alimaong formerly known as Bungkatol Liberation Front (BULIF), a paramilitary group that was formed by the 402nd Infantry brigade of the Philippine Army.

Belayong is chairperson of Linundigan, a Lumad Organization in Esperanza. Due to threats to her life, she is unable to go back to her ancestral land and perform her duties as a leader. She is now based in Butuan City, and works with KASALO (Kahugpungan sa Lumadnong Organisasyon).

17-year old Aljun Lunsayan, from the Banwaon tribe in the same province, is cousin-in-law of 23-year old Genesis Ambason. Ambason was shot and tortured to death by paramilitary groups last October. He is eyewitness to the killing of Ambason, and is also being subject to harassment by the perpetrators.
Meanwhile, families of slain village chief Jimmy Liguyon in Bukidnon as well as other members of their community continue to be harassed by Alde Salusad, known leader of the NIPAR (New Indigenous People’s Army Reform). Salusad, despite having an arrest warrant for the killing of Liguyon, continues to sow fear and terror in the community, forcing those who support the Liguyon family’s plea for justice to evacuate.

“They never wished to be crying for justice for their own kin. For the families of victims, the issue of impunity is not an issue only for the victims themselves. Their struggles to defend their land and their rights is, however, so resounding that those who have vested interests are hell-bent to silence them,” Guevarra said. She added that the communities of the said victims are under intense military operations due to their campaign against the entry of huge mining and logging companies.

“For two years, the Aquino government has gotten away with its responsibility on the continued extrajudicial killings. We condemn the Aquino government for perpetuating impunity. As long as the killings continue and impunity prevails, we call on everybody who stand for justice to remain,” Guevarra ended.

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