Two witnesses ambushed days out from anniversary of massacre in the Philippines

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in condemning the ambush of two potential witnesses in Shariff Aguak, in Maguaindanao, in the south of the Philippines.The attack took place on Wednesday 19 November, four days before the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre. Sunday will mark five years since 58 people were massacred, including 32 journalists. It is the largest massacre of journalists in history, and continues to hold a complete impunity record. On Wednesday, November 19, Denniz Sakal, former driver for ex-Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, and Sukarno ‘Butch’ Saudagal, former bagman of former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jnr, were ambushed in Barangay Bagong, Sharrif Aguak in Maguindanao at around 2pm. According to reports, the pair were on a motorbike to Buluan in Maguindanao to meet their lawyers to formalize their testimonies for the court case next week. They were ambushed by six men, armed with high powered weapons, who opened fire on them. Sakal died at the scene and Saudagal is in hospital, with some reports saying he will lose his arm. Maguindanao Governor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and sister in the Ampatuan Massacre, said that: “They were our additional vital witnesses to the massacre but unluckily they were executed. I see no other reason why they were killed but because of their desire to become state witnesses.”The Ampatuan Massacre is a black mark on the history of the Philippines and continues to haunt press freedom and journalist safety. The IFJ and NUJP are undertaking an international mission to the Philippines to mark the fifth anniversary and call the Philippine Government under President Aquino III to account. Since his inauguration six months after the massacre, 33 more journalists have lost their lives. The NUJP said in a statement: “Whatever the motives, this latest attack on potential witnesses is a setback that will clearly have an adverse impact on the trial.We demand that government immediately ensure the safety of everyone involved in the trial in the interests of truth and justice.
It has been five long years without justice and more incidents such as this latest attack can only bode ill for speeding up closure to this bloody page in the history of our country and of journalism.” The IFJ Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said from Manilla: “As we mark the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre it is outrageous that justice has not been served and impunity remains. But the fact that just days out from the anniversary, two witnesses are ambushed and one is murdered is deplorable. President Aquino must act immediately to end the culture of impunity in the Philippines and restore the safety of the population. Witnesses to this massacre, or crimes in general should not be punished, yet they continue to suffer and perpetrators get off scot-free.” The NUJP will run a number of events over the next few days to commemorate the deaths of 32 of their colleagues. On Sunday, these will culminate with a  million candle vigil at the EDSA Shrine in Manilla at 5pm.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

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