Manila: Relatives of 57 people massacred in 2009 in the southern Philippines are suing former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over the killings, which they claim she could have prevented, a lawyer said on Tuesday.
At least two Arroyo allies, including a former governor of an autonomous Muslim region, are among about 100 suspects being tried on murder charges in the country`s worst politically motivated bloodbath, which occurred two years ago Wednesday. The dead included 32 media workers, making it the worst single killing of journalists in the world.
Arroyo was arrested last week on charges that she ordered the former governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr, and another official to commit election fraud two years before the massacre. Arroyo has condemned and denied any knowledge of the killings, but lawyer Harry Roque said she should have known that Ampatuan and his son were a danger.
Roque said would file the lawsuit on Tuesday, seeking 15 million pesos (USD 346,000) in damages.
Reporters, drivers and assistants were accompanying family and supporters of the Ampatuans` political rival en route to file for candidacy in regional elections when gunmen allegedly led by former town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr stopped them and led them to a hilltop clearing where they were mowed down and hastily buried in mass graves.
The Ampatuans were political allies of Arroyo but after the massacre she expelled them from her ruling party. She also declared martial law in Maguindanao province, enabling the Army and police to round up the suspects and attempt to restore order.
Roque said that although there is no evidence that Arroyo masterminded the massacre, "she not only funded and armed the Ampatuans but gave them the sense of influence. She could have prevented it. She knew about possible dangers”.
Arroyo lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said, "Talk is easy but the evidence has to be solid to pass those who will review it."
The former president`s legal team was arguing a petition in the Supreme Court on Tuesday seeking to stop the arrest of their client on charges of electoral cheating.
Arroyo, who stepped down last year, was arrested in her hospital suite on Friday on charges that she ordered Andal Ampatuan Sr and a former elections official to rig 2007 congressional polls in Maguindanao to favour her candidates. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing.
The elder Ampatuan was implicated by his son, Zaldy Ampatuan, who wants to become a state witness in the electoral fraud case. Zaldy Ampatuan is also charged in the massacre, and the victims` relatives strongly oppose allowing him to become a prosecution witness in Arroyo`s case, which could lead to more lenient treatment for himself in the murder trial.