International press freedom
organisations today called on Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to direct
his administration to provide the necessary resources and support to ensure the
swift prosecution of suspects accused of murdering journalists and media
Marking 500 days since the November
2009 massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in the
southern island of Mindanao, Philippine and international organisations jointly
expressed their outrage and deep concerns at the continuing delays in
prosecuting key suspects in the Mindanao massacre and other media killings in
atrocity in Ampatuan Town, Maguindanao, on 23 November 2009 occurred in the
context of a decades-long culture of impunity for violence against journalists and
other human rights defenders in the Philippines,” the joint statement by the
international partnership group said.
“President Aquino and his administration must show a
firm commitment to end impunity by ensuring that perpetrators of violence against
journalists are brought to justice.”
Trials are under way for 52
defendants in the Maguindanao massacre. Among the total 195 charged, at least 83
suspects are in custody while more than 100 remain at large.
National and international
journalists’ organisations and media groups are gravely concerned by alleged attempts
to stall and subvert the judicial process. This includes alleged offers of bribes
to victims’ families, and intimidation and deadly violence against witnesses,
according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
One witness, known as Jesse, was
killed in June 2010. A member of the Ampatuan family militia, whose leaders are
among those accused of organising the massacre, Jesse was in the process of
enrolling in the Justice Department’s witness protection program. He had given
several press interviews detailing his role as one of the gunmen in the 2009 massacre.
Throughout 2010 and 2011, proceedings
have been delayed as defence lawyers filed a series of motions, including efforts
to remove the judge and prosecutors. The delays have added to the financial
strain on witnesses and family members attending the hearings.
Further, prime suspect
Zaldy Ampatuanhas filed for a judicial review in the Philippine Court of
Appeals. If the review favors him, Ampatuan will be removed from the list of accused,
and released from detention in Manila.
In March 2011, defence lawyers placed
an advertisement in the Philippine Daily
Inquirer and the Philippine Star alleging that journalists’ organisations are hindering a fair trial for Zaldy
Ampatuan by attempting to influence the court’s decision.
Meanwhile, Philippine advocates and
international experts have raised concerns that prosecution of the case is
hindered by flawed forensic work and lack of cooperation among law enforcement
Reports that some accused are
enjoying special privileges while in detention are also extremely disturbing.
The international partners urge the
Aquino administration to provide all necessary resources and support to assist
the Quezon City regional trial court, which has been assigned the Ampatuan Town
massacre proceedings, to conduct hearings fairly and swiftly.
The partners stress that local
groups representing journalists and media organisations have a right to freely
express their concerns about the conduct of the case.
November 23, 2009, at least 59 journalists and media workers had been killed since
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took office in 2001. With inadequate police
investigations and charges rarely laid, just five of these cases have gone to
trial. Not a single mastermind of these crimes has been convicted.
Law and Democracy
to Protect Journalists
Federation of Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries
IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific
IFJ on Facebook here