Supporters rally for family accused of Philippine massacre

Shariff Aguak (Philippines), Nov 29 (DPA) Thousands of people Sunday rallied in support of a prominent political family in the southern Philippines accused of masterminding the massacre of 57 people allegedly committed out of political rivalry.

About 3,000 demonstrators gathered outside the residences of the Ampatuan family in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao province, 930 km south of Manila.

Dozens of local officials allied with the Ampatuans also converged at the residences of Maguindanao Governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Senior and Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan to express their support.

The demonstrators carried placards rejecting the allegations against the family, nine members of which have been accused of being involved in the Nov 23 mass slaughter in nearby Ampatuan town.

“Stop accusing the Ampatuans,” one placard read.

The massacre victims included 30 journalists and relatives, lawyers and supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, a rival politician contesting the post of Maguindanao governor, which has been held by Ampatuan Senior since 2001.

Datu Andal Ampatuan Junior, son of the incumbent governor and mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, has been detained and faces multiple murder charges for allegedly masterminding and taking part in the killings.

His father, elder brother Zaldy, and six other relatives were also being investigated for involvement in the carnage, which has been condemned by the international community.

The ruling Lakas-Kampi political party also expelled Ampatuan Senior, Zaldy Ampatuan and Ampatuan Junior following the massacre.

Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner, a military spokesman, said government troops were closely monitoring the demonstration to ensure that violence does not break out.

“We have received information that supporters of the Mangudadatus are also massing up, but we have yet to verify this,” he said. “We are on top of the situation, the area is under our control.”

Brawner said several armed men had been arrested at various checkpoints set up around Maguindanao as part of efforts to keep peace in the area.

“We are checking if they are allied with any of the warring clans,” he said. “They could also be just residents who are used to carrying firearms, but since they passed by the checkpoints, they were arrested and their weapons confiscated.”