MANILA, Philippines, November 27, 2009
(STAR) President Arroyo led the nation yesterday in prayer and mourning for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.

Wearing a black dress, Mrs. Arroyo led the annual National Prayer Breakfast held at the Palace grounds and attended by Cabinet officials and religious leaders.

Black ribbons were strung on Palace gates as part of Malacañang’s observance of the National Day of Mourning yesterday.

Members of various media groups and news organizations wore black armbands in remembrance of the journalists killed in the massacre.

“We gather here today in the shadow of the tragedy that was recently visited upon so many of brothers and sisters in Mindanao. It was a blight on our nation – men and women, young and old, political battlers and journalists – all are victims of a shameful crime that has no place in civilized society. It cries for the fullest measure of retribution from our institutions of justice,” the President said.

“There is no condemnation in the Lord, but on the other hand, on earth, there is a system of justice and the perpetrators will not find a way to escape justice,” she said.

She also prayed for peaceful and orderly elections and called on Filipinos to help “fight malevolence” and respect each other’s religious and political beliefs.

“The question is not who will win but why should Filipinos fight fellow Filipinos on issues that we all know cannot be resolved by violence but through democratic processes?” she said in Filipino.

Despite the world clamor for the quick resolution of the killings in Maguindanao, Lakas-Kampi-CMD standard-bearer Gilbert Teodoro Jr. said “we cannot be pressured.”

“We have to let due process take its (normal) course. The President is doing a good job. There is no need to rush,” said Teodoro, reminding the public that this could lead to costly mistakes.

On Ampatuans’ expulsion from the Lakas-Kampi-CMD party, Teodoro said: “I really don’t care” about the political repercussions, adding that these are “only secondary when the integrity of the state is at stake.”

He also revealed that sometime in July this year, the Mangudadatu and Ampatuan clans promised not to engage in trouble between themselves.

Senators blamed the Arroyo administration for creating “monsters out of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD must be held responsible for the massacre in Maguindanao since it used the Ampatuans in many elections to gain an advantage.

The senators said this obviously made the Ampatuans feel they were powerful and above the law.

He cited the overwhelming win of the administration party’s bets in 2007 in the region as dubious and gross manipulation of the electoral processes.

“Who can forget the incredible 12-0 Maguindanao vote in the 2007 elections wherein Lakas-Kampi conspired with local warlords to make Lakas stalwart (Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel) Zubiri number one in the province?”

To prevent the escalation of violence in Maguindanao, Senators Benigno Aquino III and Manuel Roxas II demanded the preventive suspension of Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and all local officials who would be charged in the massacre; the suspension of the local government’s control and authority over the local police force; immediate relief and replacement of all police officials and personnel in Maguindanao; immediate revocation of Executive Order 546 which authorizes the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as force multipliers in the implementation of peace and order in local government units; and the immediate return of the Commission on Election office to Cotabato City.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson said the government must get all the perpetrators, including the masterminds, “lock them up, and throw away the key.”

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. dared the President to prove that the state of emergency she imposed in Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat was not just for show by taking quick and decisive action against the suspected perpetrators of the carnage in Maguindanao.

“Gov. Andal Ampatuan should be held as a material witness. You may not be a formal suspect but you can be a material witness because you have many things to answer for what your people did,” he said.

He said Governor Ampatuan should be held responsible because according to witnesses, the armed men who abducted and gunned down the victims were mostly members of the civilian volunteers organizations or militiamen organized and controlled by the governor.

He said graphic evidence was the backhoe used in digging the gravesites of the victims, which bore the name of the provincial government of Maguindanao. – Paolo Romero, Jerry Botial, Aurea Calica, Evelyn Macairan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved