November 23 marked the fifth anniversary of the killing of 58 people in the southern Philippines. Most were media workers. Philippine courts have yet to sentence anyone for the 2009 attacks. Many suspects remain free.
Philippine and foreign journalists recently remembered the mass murder with another appeal for justice.
Mike Dobbie is with the International Federation of Journalists. He has made trips to the southern Philippines for the past five years. He calls the Philippine justice system “broken” because of the high number of suspects who remain free.
“There seem to be no substantial reasons for why these 84 suspects have not been rounded up and detained. We know the justice system is broken because at least four witnesses have been killed before they can give their evidence in this trial.”
One hundred eleven people have been charged in connection with the murders. Two of the suspects turned state witness. That means they agreed to provide evidence to the prosecution.
The main suspects belong to a powerful political family. Andal Ampatuan and his sons Andal Junior and Zaldy have each told the court they are not guilty of carrying out the attack. The wife and sisters of Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu died in the violence. So did some of his supporters and 32 journalists.
The family of Governor Mangudadatu was on its way to register for his candidacy papers at the time of the attack. His lawyers, supporters and reporters were also with the group. Witnesses say more than 100 people blocked the group, and began shooting at them. Andal Junior was said to be leading the attack.
Moving the case forward
The trial in this case began in early 2010. Lawyers from both sides have been pushing to speed up the case.
Harry Roque, a lawyer working for the government, says he is “happy” there is a process that will move things up a little. He says the Supreme Court has permitted the presentation of evidence against some of the accused to finish before evidence against all of the suspects is in.
“In that way we can have partial promulgation of judgment against specific accused and it is our aim to finish the evidence and to have promulgation of judgment against members of the Ampatuan family and against the shooters on or before 2016.”
Lawyers for Zaldy Ampatuan are currently presenting evidence to seek bail. That is money a defendant can pay for his release from jail while the court considers the case. Andal Junior’s lawyers plan to seek bail next month.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima met with members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the International Federation of Journalists last month. Jane Worthington is the federation’s acting director for Asia and the Pacific. She says the delegates learned that the government is making changes to prosecutions against people suspected of murdering journalists.
However, she says, her organization will list the Philippines as “one of the worst (countries) in the world, in terms of its impunity situation.”
I’m Caty Weaver.
Words in This Story
journalist – n. a person whose job is to collect, write, and edit stories for the media
substantial – adj. large in amount, size, or number
prosecution – n. the act or process of holding a trial against a person who is accused of a crime to see if that person is guilty
promulgation – v. the act of making (an idea, belief, etc.) known to many people
impunity – n. freedom from punishment, harm, or loss