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article imageNo justice on 5 year anniversary of Maguindanao massacre

By Ben Morris     Nov 23, 2014 in World
Manila - Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of a massacre where families have yet to see those responsible for the death of their lost ones, brought to justice. No prosecution, and no conviction has taken place in response to the mass murder in the Philippines
58 people, which included 32 journalists were attacked at a political envoy by over 100 armed criminals in a crime that has gone unpunished.
Victims families and human rights organizations have harshly criticized the courts and the government for the lack of criminal justice activity in putting those who took part in the massacre inside the courts. Hazel Galang-Folli, Amnesty International’s Philippines Researcher claimed, “Justice delayed is justice denied. Five years after the Maguindanao massacre, the cases are still inching through the Philippine court system and not a single person has been held to account.” Of the 197 accused of the crime which allegedly includes members of the police and military, almost half of those individuals who have warrants for their arrests remain at large.
Most of the proceedings in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court have been bail hearings, with frequent delays and other impediments preventing the prosecution of those accused. Not only have the criminal proceedings moved in a slow pace, witnesses to the crime, who were set to testify have been murdered in high numbers, those crimes too have not be solved.
On November 19th, in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, two key witnesses to the massacre were attacked. Dennix Sakal driver of Andal Ampatuan Sr. (the suspected ringleader of the attack) was killed instantly, his friend Sukarno Butch Saudagal was wounded in the arm and survived. Sakal a suspect in the crime, who along with Saudagal was travelling to meet with lawyers, is not the only witness to have been murdered in the five years since the massacre.
In 2010, Esmail Enog, a driver for the Ampatuan family, who claimed to have transported gunmen to the site of the murders, went missing. Two months after he was last seen, his mutilated and dismembered body was discovered.
The Ampatuan clan, which is accused of orchestrating the crime, has 27 members of the family charged for their involvement. The family which has lineage in the Maguindanao province, going back generations, is lead by its patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. is the former mayor of the town Maganoy and became a three term governor of Maguindanao. The family had political posts throughout the province and were supported by former President Gloria Arroyo, who legalized private armies to work alongside the national army, gave the family funding; and helped give the Ampatuan's more power.
Experts claim the massacre was a politically motivated power play to acquire regional dominance. The attacked convoy of supporters of Buluan vice-mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, was set to travel to the provincial capital to file candidacy papers to run for governor of the Maguindanao province. Mangudadatu was a member of a rival Muslim clan.
President Benigno S. Aquino III came into power promising to attack human rights abuses, but for journalists; the situation within the country is one where the Philippines has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.
Media has been banned from covering the trails related to the massacre, in a country where 145 members of the media have been killed since the 1986 ouster of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. The Maguindanao massacre has the distinction of being the deadliest recorded murder of journalists in history.
In 2014, 42 journalists have been killed world wide, 16 of them have been murdered, with one of the murders taking place in the Philippines.The number has declined from 2013, but prosecution of the murders has not begun in many of the countries where journalists have been murdered.
The lack of movement in criminal proceedings has caused Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno to reject claims that the criminal justice system inside the Philippines is moving forward with the proceedings. Speaking to the Asia Forum on the Culture of Impunity and the Counter-Culture of Hope, Sereno argued, “Words of assurance even from the Chief Justice are not enough to assuage the hunger of our people for justice-What I offer is a public face to the Philippine judiciary’s sincere desire to be a genuine vessel of justice.”
More about Phillipines, Filipino journalists, Journalists killed, Amnesty international, committee to protect journalists
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