Manila (AsiaNews) - 197 members of the Muslim Ampatuan clan have been charged as the organizers and perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre last November 23 that killed 57 people. Philippines Department of Justice today confirmed the charges against Andalo Ampatuan sr., former governor of the Autonomous Province of Muslim Mindanao (Armm) and ally of President Arroyo as well as against 196 men linked to his clan. The news comes after the arrest of his son Andalo Ampatuan jr. arrested in December on charges of being the perpetrator of 41 of the 57 murders. Ampatuan sr. and his men were already in custody and awaiting trial on charges of attempted revolt. The ruling was issued last December during the period of martial law.
In a 78 page document Leo Dacera, head of the investigation group, said: "The confluence of events before and after the massacre lead us to the conclusion that Andalo Ampatuan sr. and other members of the clan connived with the perpetrators of the massacre. " He defined the statements of 12 witnesses and former members of the Ampatuan clan as essential to the charges. They claim to have witnessed the brutal execution of 57 supporters of the clan of Ishmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, rival of Ampatuan sr. in the race for governorship of the Autonomous Region in elections next May. According to witnesses Ampatuan sr. communicated the order to proceed with the execution his son by radio. The head of the Department of Justice also states that they have evidence against members of the army and police, who apparently took part in the organization of the massacre.
The Muslim majority region of Mindanao has been the theatre of war between Islamic rebels and Philippine military Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf for over 40 years. In recent years thanks to the ongoing smuggling of weapons into the region and the approval of the government, the Ampatuan family had set up its own army and ruled unchallenged in the province. Manila made this decision in an attempt to contain Muslim separatist rebellions. Following the massacre, Arroyo revoked all agreements with the clan and imposed martial law in the region from 5 to 12 December 2009.