MANILA, Philippines – After 10 years, various media and local groups on Saturday, November 23, continued to call for justice for the families of the victims killed in the gruesome Ampatuan massacre.
The massacre, where 58 people were killed, 32 from the media, was the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines and the single deadliest attack against Filipino journalists.
The victims were on their way to the filing of the certificate of candidacy for Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu that morning of November 23, 2009. Mangudadatu was set to run for Maguindanao governor against Andal Ampatuan Jr, son of the sitting governor at the time, Andal Ampatuan Sr. (READ: Children bear the brunt 10 years since Ampatuan massacre)
Justice delayed is justice denied
Ten years since it happened, the College Editors’ Guild of the Philippines reiterated how justice remains elusive for the victims.
“The families of those slain in the massacre still await justice—many suspects are still at large and those detained have manipulated the justice system to repeatedly delay the judicial process,” CEGP said in a statement.
The group also pointed out the failure of the past two administrations – Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino – to use its resources and influence to convict the Ampatuans.
This was echoed by the people’s rights group Karapatan as regimes seem to have set aside the cry of the victims’ families.
“Years have already passed and the children of the victims are now grown-ups. What took the government so long to convict the perpetrators of the deadly attack on defenseless civilians?” Karapatan Vice Chairperson Reylan Vergara said in a press release.
Andal Jr and his brother Zaldy, who are in jail, are the principal accused, along with their other brother Sajid Ampatuan, who is out on bail. Sajid is now mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in Maguindanao.
Andal Sr, the alleged mastermind of the massacre, died in July 2015.
The families of the victims, on the other hand, have yet to find a resolution of the case. A verdict is set to be handed down on or before December 20. ([WATCH] Trial of the decade: Highlights of Ampatuan massacre case)
Worsened through time
Just like his two successors, media groups stressed that the Duterte government also failed to bring justice for the victims in this first 3 years as President.
Instead, according to a Karapatan official, the ”‘climate of impunity has worsened through Duterte’s all-out war on critics, including journalists.”
For the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) Cagayan de Oro Chapter, the Ampatuan massacre leaves a mark in the country’s history. Without justice, the families of the victims and the media community will continue to live with an open and unhealed wound.
“As such, the remembrance of the bloody massacre is a reminder how journalists and media workers are easy targets and victims of impunity. Hence we continue to fight, as we stand together with other issues surrounding our workplaces, from labor, harrassments, death threats, and red-tagging issues” NUJP Cagayan de Oro Chapter said in a statement.
Despite the gruesome massacre in 2009, press freedom is still under attack. There are over 100 recorded attacks vs journalists since Duterte assumed office. Moreover, the Philippines was dubbed as the deadliest peacetime country for journalists in Southeast Asia.
Altermidya- People’s Alternative Media Network, in its statement, commended the victims’ families, their lawyers, witnesses, and supporters have stood their ground amidst the threats.
“Anything less is unacceptable and would unleash a storm of wrath, not just from the victims’ families and loved ones, but from the greater public, including the media community here and abroad,” Altermidya said in a press release.
“An attack on one of us is an attack on us all. Justice for 32 of us is justice for us all,” it added as it called for the immediate conviction of the principal suspects, brothers Andal Jr., Zaldy and Sajid Ampatuan.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) said that although the conviction of the perpetrators and the full recompense of the victims’ families will be a first step in reversing the injustices, the government still has to do much more to banish the political barbarism that endagers such attacks.
“Not one more day of delay can be justified,” it said in a statement.
It also stressed that the impunity that killed the 58 victims underscored political abuse and government failures that remains to be relevant until today.
“We call on officials at the highest level to take effective steps to stop all forms of attacks and intimidation against journalists. They should fulfill their core constitutional duty to protect fundamental freedoms,” FOCAP added.
Moreover, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and South East Asia Journalist Unions (SEAJU) is set to launch Holding the Line: South East Asia Media Freedom Report 2019 on Saturday, November 23 to mark the 10ht anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre.
The report details the issues and challenges that imperil press freedom in the region. – Rappler.com