500 Days since Philippines Massacre: It’s Time for Aquino to Act

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

workers.

 

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

the Philippines.

 

“The

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

officials.

 

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.

 Up to

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. 

Endorsed by:

 

AMARC

Article 19

Centre for

Law and Democracy

Committee

to Protect Journalists

Index on

Censorship

International

Federation of Journalists

International

Media Support

Reporters Without Borders

Southeast Asian Press Alliance

 

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

 

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IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

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