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Philippines: Election marred by political killings

Candidates in the Philippines presidential election should outline their plans to combat the political violence which has resulted in the killing of at least five candidates and sixteen campaign organisers this year, Amnesty International said today.

As political violence continues to mar the run-up to the 10 May poll, the organisation called on the candidates to commit to abolishing the private armies that are responsible for election-related attacks.

Political violence during the election had already hit record levels before the official campaign period began in February. On 23 November 2009, 63 people travelling in an opposition candidate’s convoy were killed in Maguindanao province.

The then-governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr, and members of his private army have since been arrested and charged with the murders.

Lance Lattig, Philippines researcher at Amnesty International, said:

“Maguindanao should have been a wake-up call for the president to abolish these militias.

“Whichever candidate wins this election, they will need to disarm and disband these private armies, once and for all.”

The number of private armies jumped from 68 in December, to 117 in February, according to Dante Jimenez, a member of the presidential commission created to dismantle these groups.

Despite public outrage over Maguindanao, President Gloria Arroyo has failed to revoke Executive Order 546, which effectively authorised private armies in 2006.

Lance Lattig, said:

“This election is being fought with bullets as well as ballots.

“The new president will need to tackle the private armies and political killings that mar Arroyo’s legacy.”

Beyond the Maguindanao massacre, political killings in the Philippines remain an endemic problem, fuelled by a culture of impunity. Despite dozens of new cases each year, few effective investigations have been conducted, and prosecutions are rare.

During the election, the number of political killings has surged as a means of eliminating electoral rivals. Other acts of violence, including grenade attacks, have also been used to intimidate political supporters.

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