Federation of Journalists (IFJ) remains deeply worried about the risks of continuing
political interference in the trials of those accused of involvement in the
Maguindanao massacre in the southern Philippines last November, even as
the Philippines Government has reversed its contentious decision to drop
charges against two key suspects.
Yesterday, Acting Justice Secretary
Alberto Agra was quoted as saying that he is “now convinced insofar as Zaldy
Ampatuan and Akmad Ampatuan are concerned, that there is probable cause to
pursue the case against them,” according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
(NUJP), an IFJ affiliate.
His comments reverse his decision on
April 21 to drop murder charges against the pair for their alleged roles in the
murder of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Maguindanao
on November 23.
“The IFJ is outraged that Alberto Agra
sought to meddle in the charges against these two key suspects, and demands
that authorities in the Philippines ensure that charges relating to the pair –
and all other 194 suspects – be fairly tested in court without any political
interference,” IFJ Asia-Pacific
Director Jacqueline Park said.
Zaldy is Governor of the Autonomous
Region in Muslim Mindanao and a brother of Andal Ampatuan Jr, the main suspect
in the massacre. Akmad is Vice-Governor of Maguindanao and Andal’s cousin.
Those killed were travelling in
convoy to lodge candidacy papers for Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu to run for
Maguindanao governor against the Ampatuans.
According to a report from the NUJP, state prosecutors noted publicly that Agra’s
move to drop the charges could not have been based on consideration of the
extensive evidence presented against the two accused, and suggested political
interference in the judicial process.
In the tense lead-up to national and
presidential elections on May 10, the effort to drop the charges angered local
and international journalists’ organisations, which noted the Ampatuan family’s
support for the Government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and its involvement in
voting irregularities that benefited Arroyo in 2004 and 2007.
“As the election draws near, we further
call on all candidates and future power-holders to make a public pledge to take
full responsibility for ensuring justice is done, and seen to be done, and that
they end the culture of impunity for the killings of journalists in the Philippines,”
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide