Journalists from 120 countries press Aquino to speed up Maguindanao massacre trial
OZAMIZ CITY, Philippines — More than 300 delegates to the 28th World Congress of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in Dublin, Ireland have called on President Benigno Aquino III to “take steps to expedite the trial” of those accused in the Maguindanao massacre.
The call was contained in an urgent resolution adopted by the congress, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chair Rowena Paraan, who attended the Dublin gathering.
“Everybody is disappointed that … the justice system in the Philippines has not moved forward. Journalists here from 120 countries are absolutely united in making sure that they will help [promote] the widest campaigns until justice is found,” IFJ president Jim Boumelha was quoted in an NUJP news release.
The IFJ is the world’s largest organization of journalists with some 600,000 members in 120 countries. The NUJP is its affiliate in the Philippines.
Fifty-eight people died in the Maguindanao massacre, 32 of whom were media workers. The massacre has been dubbed the world’s single worst attack on the press and the trial of those accused has earned the attention of press freedom advocates.
Nov. 23, the date of the massacre, has been declared by advocates of the freedom of expression worldwide as an International Day to End Impunity.
It has been three and a half years since the killings occurred and “there has not been a single conviction for the murders,” the IFJ noted.
Among the immediate steps the government can do is “to immediately arrest and arraign all the accused…,” the IFJ said.
There are 195 suspects in the case, of whom 106 have been arrested.
Eight of the principal suspects belong to the Ampatuan clan, a close ally of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. They include former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan, his brother and former mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., and their father, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. Under public pressure, Mrs. Arroyo had to declare a state of emergency in the Maguindanao province, and ensure the arrest of the Ampatuans and their detention.
So far, some 750 motions, petitions and comments— including petitions for bail for 56 accused —have been filed by both the defense and prosecution teams. Of these, at least 500 were filed by the defense.
The panel of state prosecutors has submitted a 354-page formal offer of evidence.
The body of one of the journalists, Reynaldo Momay, a photojournalist for the Midland Review, remains missing but the justice department has declared him as among the 58 victims killed in Barangay (village) Salman in Ampatuan town.
The IFJ also demanded that the justice department “take measures to protect the witnesses and families of victims” amid reports from some of them that they were “receiving threats and noticing unidentified persons monitoring their movements.”
It said it was “disturbed that four witnesses and relatives of witnesses in the massacre case have been reported murdered.”
Also, two of the accused have died; one in an apparent suicide and another, in an armed encounter.
These incidents happened as the prosecution were enlisting the cooperation of minor suspects to turn state witnesses. So far, at least four suspects are being appealed to be converted as state witnesses although only one, former Sultan Barongis vice-mayor Sukarno Badal, has been approved.
Further, the IFJ said it was “concerned at confirmed reports that the accused are coercing families to accept monetary settlements in exchange for (their) signing affidavits of desistance” from the massacre case.
The IFJ Congress enjoined its affiliates “to actively support the Philippine media community and families of massacre victims” by initiating or joining actions demanding the speedy resolution of the case particularly on the massacre anniversary, Nov. 23.
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