MANILA, Philippines – The government should “redouble” its protection for witnesses in the Maguindanao massacre case, a human rights group said Thursday, May 31, after another witness in the case was reportedly killed and mutilated.
The group Human Rights Watch released this statement after a witness in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, who was reported missing two months ago, was reportedly killed. The witness, Esmail Amil Anog, was also chopped into pieces, according to private prosecutor Nena Santos.
“As the reported killing of witness Esmail Amil Enog underscores, these witnesses are in extreme danger and it is appalling that they are being hunted down one after the other,” said Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson.
Pearson noted that before Enog, another person who was willing to testify about the massacre – Suwaib Upham – was also murdered in June 2010. Upham’s killers have not been punished, she said.
“Witnesses won’t come forward if they and their families continue to be targeted. The government needs to act quickly to protect witnesses and their relatives, and to arrest and detain the remaining suspects,” Pearson said.
The report on his death came a day after Justice Secretary Leila de Lima defended her government’s human rights record before the United Nation’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva.
Enog was admitted as state witness but declined to put himself under the government’s witness protection program because he did not want to be restricted to government safe houses.
Enog testified in July that he drove at least 36 armed men into the remote village of Malataing in Ampatuan, Maguindanao where 57 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, were gunned down on November 23, 2009.
The journalists and media workers were to cover the filing of the certificate of candidacy of now Maguindanao Gov Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
Another possible witness who was mentioned by Enog during his testimony, Alijol Ampatuan, is also reported missing.
Enog was the latest witness in the Ampatuan murder case to be killed since trial began last year.
In July 2010, Suwaib Upham, who confessed to participation in the brutal killings, was reported to have been killed by unknown assassins. Upham was reportedly poised to turn state witness.
Relatives of other witnesses have also been killed in separate instances and under mysterious circumstances. Another suspect who turned state witness reportedly jumped to his death inside the heavily secured police detention center in Bicutan, Metro Manila.
A total of 196 people, majority of them paramilitary forces of the Ampatuan family, are now facing murder charges.
Only 97, however, have been arrested and only 17 have so far been arraigned.
The suspects are led by Andal Ampatuan Sr and sons Anwar Jr, Zaldy, Sajid, and brother Kanor Ampatuan.
Among those killed were 6 members of the Mangudadatu family, their two lawyers, and several other relatives.
Genalyn Mangudadatu headed the convoy that was on its way to file the certificate of candidacy of her husband Toto Mangudadatu. She and members of the convoy, including some innocent motorists, did not reach the provincial capitol.
Andal Sr was former governor of Maguindanao and eldest son Zaldy was governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao at the time of the killings.
Anwar Jr, who was tagged by witnesses as the one who flagged down the convoy in Ampatuan town, is the mayor of Datu Unsay town.
He would have run for governor and faced Toto Mangudadatu.
International outcry over the worst election-related violence led to the declaration of martial law in the province. The killings were also the worst single-day murders of journalists and media workers in the world.
The Ampatuans were arrested in the ensuing crackdown but only Anwar Sr and Anwar Jr have been arraigned more than 30 months after the murders. – Rappler.com