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S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

  • Simone Orendain

International journalist advocates and the wife of a victim, Edita Tiamzon remember the 58 dead on the fifth anniversary of one of the most violent incidents of election-related violence in the S. Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines. November 23, 2014. (S. Orendain/VOA)

International journalist advocates and the wife of a victim, Edita Tiamzon remember the 58 dead on the fifth anniversary of one of the most violent incidents of election-related violence in the S. Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines. November 23, 2014. (S. Orendain/VOA)

Five years after 58 people, more than half of them media workers, were killed in the southern Philippines, no convictions have been made and scores of suspects remain at large. F

Philippine and international journalists are remembering the massacre in Maguindanao province on November 23, 2009 with a repeated call for justice.

Mike Dobbie of the International Federation of Journalists has led missions to the southern Philippines for the past five years. He calls the Philippine justice system “broken” because of the significant number of people still at large.

Broken justice system

“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 could give their evidence in this trial.”

One-hundred-11 people have been arraigned for the murders, while two of the suspects turned state witness. The main suspects belong to a powerful political clan, the Ampatuans. Andal Ampatuan and his sons Andal Junior and Zaldy have all pleaded not guilty to carrying out the ambush that saw the wife and sisters of their political rival, as well as supporters and 32 journalists, killed.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu’s family, escorted by lawyers, supporters and the media, had been on the way to file his candidacy papers when witnesses say more than 100 people allegedly led by Andal Junior blocked them, shooting them dead.

Moving the case forward

The trial in this case began in early 2010 and attorneys from both sides had been pushing to move it along more quickly.

But Harry Roque, an attorney for the prosecution, says he is “happy” there is a mechanism that will have sped things up a little. He says the Supreme Court has allowed the submission of evidence against some of those accused in the killings 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," Roque says, "and against the shooters on or before 2015.”

Zaldy Ampatuan’s attorneys are currently presenting evidence to seek bail, while Andal Junior’s defense will do the same in December. Their father opted not to.

Slain reporter's wife Edita Tiamzon and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Director Nonoy Espina circle an exhibit depicting fallen victims of the Maguindanao massacre, in Quezon City, Nov. 23, 2014. (S. Orendain/VOA)

Slain reporter's wife Edita Tiamzon and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Director Nonoy Espina circle an exhibit depicting fallen victims of the Maguindanao massacre, in Quezon City, Nov. 23, 2014. (S. Orendain/VOA)

Members of the International Federation of Journalists and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines met with Philippine Justice Secretary Leila De Lima Saturday. IFJ Asia-Pacific acting director Jane Worthington says they are “cautiously optimistic” because they learned that some changes are being made in the prosecution of those suspected of murdering journalists.

However, Worthington says the federation will list the Philippines as “one of the worst in the world, in terms of its impunity situation.”

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