On 23 November, the wife and two sisters of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu went to the town of Ampatuan to register him for the 2010 elections for the province of Maguindanao in the Philippines. They were Genalyn Mangudadatu, Vice Mayor Eden Mangudadatu of Mangudadatu town and Bai Farinna Mangudadatu respectively. A recipient of death threats, Esmael Mangudadatu couldn’t register himself for fear of being killed, and the police and the army didn’t grant him protections such that he could. It was thought that women, holding a place of respect, would not be harmed. For extra protection, the three were accompanied by the two female lawyers of the family, Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon and Connie Brizuela, a number of other family members, drivers and supporters and, again for safety, journalists and their assistants. (Apologies, I can’t find a list of all their names. Wikipedia’s partial list of names is the best I can do.) Aquiles Zonio of the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Eden Mangudadatu was heard to say, ‘This is women power in action. Let’s help our men chart a better future for the province’.
On their way to the Comission on Elections, the group was stopped on the highway by about one hundred armed men. They and a number of nearby motorists were abducted, shot and buried in mass graves. It’s believed that the armed men were from the private militia of powerful political clan figure Andal Ampatuan, Jr., who was also to run in the gubernatorial election. Ampatuan has been charged with murder.
It’s being called the Maguindanao massacre. 64 bodies have been found so far, and most of them have been identified. The massacre is being reported as the largest-scale killing of journalists in history with thirty-four deaths. It was extreme and it was vicious.
And this came just two days before the International Day to Eliminate Violence Against Women. The worst of it was reserved for the women, who comprised at least twenty-two of those killed. Reports are that most if not all of them were raped and/or sexually mutilated. Justice Minister Agnes Devanadera says (trigger warning on the blockquote):
Even the private parts of the women were shot at. It was horrible. It was not done to just one. It was done practically to all the women. The zippers of their pants were all undone. We have yet to determine whether they were raped. But it is certain that something bad was done to them.
I’ll not link to more graphic descriptions of the violations of these women.
These are yet more violent acts against women in a world in which sexual violence is used as a fighting tactic, a political tactic. Women are especially vulnerable. We have our special protections and our untouchability until suddenly we don’t. And death wasn’t enough for their killers to inflict on these women.
Further reading: The Philippines Star has some more information on the massacre and gender justice in the Philippines.