On November 26th, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights named EPAF’s Executive Director, José Pablo Baraybar, to head an investigation into the massacre of 57 people in the country’s Maguindanao province.
The massacre, which is considered the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history, took place as representatives from the Mangudadatu clan were on their way to register the candidacy of one of their members for next year’s elections. At least 29 journalist accompanied the convoy at the time of the attack and are thought to be among the dead.
According to press reports, the convoy was surrounded by about 100 armed men and led from the highway to a remote hillside, where they were attacked with M-16s and machetes. Philippine police have arrested Andal Ampatuan, Jr. as the main suspect in the massacre. Ampatuan, a rival clan leader and local politician, has denied the charges against him.
During his first day at the massacre site, Baraybar likened the scene to those he observed as a forensic expert in Rwanda during the mid-1990s. “It reminded me of something–it’s just like Rwanda,” he said. “This kind of topography unfortunately provides an incentive for acts of impunity. Its sheer remotenes keeps away public attention.”
The Maguindanao province is notorious for its clan rivalries, including the one between the Mangudadatu and the Ampatuans. Each of the two clans have often competed for influential positions in local and regional government in the past.