HRW: Use Ampatuan conviction to push for reforms vs culture of impunity

Jodesz Gavilan
HRW: Use Ampatuan conviction to push for reforms vs culture of impunity

Alecs Ongcal

(UPDATED) The conviction of the Ampatuan brothers over the 2009 massacre should signal the end of state support for private armies and political warlordism, says Human Rights Watch

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The conviction of the Ampatuan brothers over the massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists, after a decade-long trial is a welcome development against the culture of impunity in the Philippines. 

Calling the verdict momentous, Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday, December 19, said advocates should use this to build toward “greater accountability for rights abuses in the country.” 

“Advocates should use this verdict to spur further political and judicial reforms to ultimately end the impunity that has plagued the country for far too long,” HRW Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said.

He added the verdict should signal the end of state support for private armies and political warlordism that gave rise to the Ampatuans in the first place.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 under Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes found the Ampatuan brothers Datu Andal Jr and Zaldy guilty of 57 counts of murder in the 2009 massacre. They were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and are set to face reclusion perpetua without parole.

On November 23, 2009, armed men intercepted a convoy of journalists, media workers, lawyers, and relatives of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor against Andal Jr. ([WATCH] Trial of the decade: Highlights of Ampatuan massacre case)

It is considered as the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines and also regarded as the single deadliest attack against the media in the world. (TIMELINE: The long road to justice for Ampatuan massacre victims

Search for justice far from over 

Meanwhile,  Amnesty International said the decision on the massacre shows that the system is working despite massive delays.

It noted, however, that there are still suspects at large, making the “families’ search for justice far from over.” 

“Today’s court decision shows that the wheels of justice keep on turning,” Amnesty Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin  said. “Suspected perpetrators of human rights violations will be held to account.”

While it welcomed the decision, Karapatan said the 10-year trial was already a form of injustice for the victims and their families. But the group still lauded the efforts to attain justice especially against a powerful clan like the Ampatuans. 

“This only proves that years of hounding and demanding for justice pays off. As long as there is relentless efforts from families to exact justice and accountability, the fight will continue,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said. “Our justice system would have put this case in limbo if it were not for the resounding calls of families and journalists to remind the nation of this brutal crime.”

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.