Justice not in sight for Maguindanao massacre victims

maguindanao--victims-cropOn November 23, 2009, 32 journalists and media workers joined the convoy of Genalin Mangudadatu who was supposed to file the Certificate of Candidacy of her husband for the 2010 Maguindanao gubernatorial race at the regional office of the Commission for Elections (Comelec) in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao Province. However, before the five-vehicle convoy could reach Shariff Aguak, more than 100 armed men, allegedly led by Datu Unsay town mayor Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., stopped the vehicles at a checkpoint in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. A total of 58 men and women were brought to a nearby hilltop where they were shot dead, allegedly by Unsay and his men.

Some of the bodies and vehicles were dumped into pits that had earlier been dug using a backhoe owned by the provincial government, which was then headed by Andal Ampatuan, Sr.  Some bodies including those of a few journalists were not buried allegedly because the perpetrators had to flee because law enforcers agencies ordered by the national government to the site were already on their way.

The journalists and media workers killed and their affiliations were:

Name of Victim News organization/s Position medium
1 Adolfo, Bengie Gold Star Daily Driver print
2 Araneta, Henry dzRH correspondent for Central Mindanao radio
3 Arriola, Mc Delbert “Mac-mac” UNTV Cameraman TV
4 Bataluna, Rubello Gold Star Daily Correspondent print
5 Betia, Arturo Periodico Ini marketing manager print
6 Cabillo, Romeo Jimmy “Pal-ak” The Midland Review Correspondent print
7 Cablitas, Marites News Focus / RPN – dxDX publisher / anchor print / radio
8 Cachuela, Hannibal Manila Star / Punto News correspondent / Bureau chief print
9 Cadagdagon, Jephon Saksi Mindanaoan News Driver print
10 Caniban, John Periodico Ini / Sultan Kudarat Gazette news bureau chief / associate publisher print
11 Dalmacio, Eleanor “Leah” Socsksargen Today secretary and reporter print
12 Decena, Noel Rapido circulation manager print
13 Dela Cruz, Gina Saksi Mindanaoan News Correspondent print
14 Duhay, Jose “Jhoy” Gold Star Daily Correspondent print
15 Evardo,  Jolito UNTV assistant cameraman / editor TV
16 Gatchalian, Santos  Jr. Mindanao Daily Gazette Reporter print
17 Legarta, Bienvenido Jr. Periodico Ini Contributor print
18 Lupogan, Lindo Mindanao Daily Gazette Publisher print
19 Maravilla, Ernesto “Bombo Bart” Bombo Radyo-Koronadal City anchor / reporter radio
20 Merisco, Rey Periodico Ini, Tingog MindaNOW associate editor and columnist / publisher print
21 Momay, Reynaldo “Bebot” (missing body) Midland Review photographer / errand boy print
22 Montaño, Marife “Neneng” Saksi Mindanaoan News / dxCP reporter / talent print / radio
23 Morales, Rosell News Focus circulation manager / correspondent print
24 Nuñez, Victor UNTV Anchor TV
25 Parcon, Joel Pronterra News Publisher print
26 Perante, Ronnie Gold Star Daily Correspondent print
27 Razon, Fernando “Ranny” Periodico Ini account executive print
28 Reblando, Alejandro “Bong” Manila Bulletin / Reuters Correspondent / stringer print
29 Salaysay, Napoleon Clear View Gazette publisher-editor print
30 Subang, Francisco “Ian” Jr. Socsksargen Today Publisher print
31 Teodoro, Andres “Andy” Mindanao Inquirer / People’s Forum Editor in chief / columnist print
32 Tiamzon, Daniel UNTV Driver TV

 

Aside from the journalists and members of the Mangudadatu convoy, six passersby were also killed. The six—the Lichonsito couyple, the Palabrica couple, Daryll de los Reyes, and a government employee identified as Ridao—were on their way to Cotabato City, and were passing by the national highway when the convoy was waylaid.

The total number of bodies found in the Massacre site was 57. However, witnesses have testified that the Midland Review’s Reynaldo Momay was part of the convoy. His dentures were also found during one of the follow-up attempts to retrieve the bodies.

During the investigation, and as testified to by some witnesses, the Ampatuans had wanted Esmael Mangudadatu to withdraw from the gubernatorial race. Primary suspect Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan was supposed to run for the same position, which had been held by an Ampatuan for the past decade.

Trial update 

A local court in Quezon City is currently hearing the multiple murder case against Unsay Ampatuan and 195 other alleged perpetrators. The Department of Justice had originally filed murder charges against 197 persons, but the court  dismissed for lack of probable cause murder charges against Police Officer 1 Johann Draper, a driver for the Ampatuans. (The case against Unsay Ampatuan had been filed in court as early as December 2009.)

Department of Justice records show that only 97 of the 196 perpetrators are currently in custody. Only 78 of the 97 have been arraigned.  Over the past three years, only three of the 17 Ampatuans with “Datu” titles have been arraigned—Unsay, Andal Sr. and Jimmy Ampatuan. The arraignment of other detained Ampatuans has been held in abeyance because they have pending petitions before the Higher Courts seeking the withdrawal of their indictment in the multiple murder case.

Ampatuans with the title of “DATU” PNP/AFP personnel CVOs (Armed Barangay security officers) and private militia members Other Local government officials TOTAL
TOTAL 17 70 108 2 197
DETAINED 9 54 32 2 97
ARRAIGNED 3 51 23 1 78
AT LARGE 8 15 76 0 99
DISMISSED 0 1 0 0 1
Number of detainees includes Hernani Decipulo, one of the charged police officers who allegedly committed suicide at the QC City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa.                                                                                       (SOURCE:DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE)

More than 55 accused perpetrators have also filed petitions for bail, including Unsay, Andal Sr., Sajid Islam, Akmad Tato and Anwar. Akmad, Anwar and Sajid filed petitions for bail but have refused to be arraigned.

Government atittude

President Benigno Aquino III met with a number of the victims’ relatives during the 2010 presidential campaign. He promised that his administration would help speed up the multiple murder trial—within  the limits of what the law allows.

To some extent, the Aquino government through the Justice Secretary had shown support for the successful prosecution of the multiple murder case. The Department of Justice has been responsive to the needs of the public prosecutors, providing a room solely for their use and staff members and equipment to help them do their work. According to Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, the Justice department had received a fund solely  for the expenses of the panel of prosecutors as well as for the needs of the witnesses under the DOJ Witness Protection Program. Law enforcement agencies have also conducted operations to arrest those accused perpetrators who are still at large.

But while press freedom advocates and other media organizations have been asking for a review of the Rules of Court,  the government has so far not taken a clear stand on this issue.

The most dangerous country for journalists

The Ampatuan Massacre  catapulted the Philippines to the top of the list of the most dangerous places for working journalists during peacetime.

The Massacre happened a few days before the end of the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy. It was one more indication of the lack of respect for human rights as well as electoral rights and press freedom among some government officials. It also highlights the lack of political will of the national government to address the long festering issues of political dynasties and warlords and the proliferation of private armies in the provinces.

Despite the attention given  the case, the slow pace of the Ampatuan Massacre trial—and the number of accused perpetrators still at large—indicates that the culture of impunity continues to thrive in the country, and the rule of law weak. The clearest indication of the latter is the ongoing killing of journalists and media workers in Philippine provinces.

Advocacy 

The Ampatuan Massacre demonstrated the need to focus on the safety and security of journalists and media practitioners during coverage. Media practitioners have reviewed safety guidelines, and have been taking threats and security issues seriously since the Massacre happened. The NUJP and other journalists’ and media organizations have been conducting safety trainings for journalists in the provinces.

Several media organizations including the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) offer humanitarian and legal assistance to the families of  slain journalists, including those of the victims of the assacre. FFFJ is a coalition of Manila-based press freedom advocacy and media organizations formed in 2003 to provide support to the families of slain journalists and media workers.

The FFFJ coordinates with several international organizations like the Rory Peck Trust for livelihood assistance to the victims’ loved ones. FFFJ, NUJP, Bantay Bata and Mabuting Pilipino have scholarship programs for the children of slain journalists. NUJP holds a psycho-social activity to help the families  deal with the trauma of their loss. (Mabuting Pilipino is a non-government organization which “advocates good governance, national discipline and transparency in government.”)

News media organizations regularly monitor the trial  in the Quezon City Jail Annex in Taguig, and in the Hall of Justice in Quezon City. Even other cases related to the Ampatuan Massacre are being watched by journalists and media practitioners. News reports and analysis of the Massacre trial are published in the media. CMFR maintains a microsite which contains highlights of the Massacre.

Local media organizations and journalists’ groups have  their monthly commemoration of the November 23, 2009 Massacre. Whenever needed, protest actions are quickly organized by these and news organizations.

JUSTICE NOW!, an organization of the families of the media victims, regularly hold meetings and events to keep the Ampatuan Massacre in the public consciousness. (contributed by  the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility)