On November 23, 2009, the single deadliest attack on journalists in history occurred when a political convoy was attacked in the southern province of Maguindanao. In all, 58 people lost their lives in the grizzly murder on the convoy on its way to register an election candidate from a rival to the Ampatuan clan. The Ampatuan name is the one to which the massacre has been burned in the Philippines psyche in the years since.
More than a decade on from the deathly scene on a hillside in Mindanao and years of campaigning by the victims’ families and journalists throughout the country, yesterday the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes handed down a verdict. Ampatuan brothers, Datu Andal Jr Zaldy and Anwar Sr were convicted with 57 counts of murder. Other Ampatuan clan members Anwar Jr and Anwar Sajid were also convicted. However, their other brother Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan was acquitted despite ‘having prior knowledge of the murder plot.’
Another 28 people were convicted of murder, with sentences up to 40 years without parole, 15 people were sentenced from between six to ten years as being an accessory to the crime and 55 people have been acquitted. 80 other suspects, including 13 other clan members, are still at large.
NUJP said: “The decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court is not yet final until the Supreme Court rules so. But, this is a significant and landmark step in proving the guilt of the Ampatuan clan members and their minions in the massacre - the worst single attack against journalists in the world and the worst single election-related violence in the country.”
The NUJP lauded the victims’ families for “never giving up or succumbing to threats, bribes and harassment”. Instead they stood their ground in fighting for justice for loved ones, it said.
“The convictions and indemnification can never bring back the lives of the victims and erase the pain of the families who lost their loved ones. But this verdict, in some ways, alleviates the suffering that they have endured for the past 10 years,” the NUJP said.
The IFJ said: “While we welcome the verdict, it came after ten years of heavy campaigning, sacrifice, pain and the suffering of many. Children have been left without parents, witnesses murdered and impunity for crimes against journalists has reigned. The result has been more journalist lives lost in the process. Justice came at a great cost but we commend the efforts of many who have persisted in a very necessary and critical fight for justice. The IFJ stands in solidarity with NUJP and will continue to fight for justice against those who try to stamp out the truth.”