Struggle against impunity

[SEAPA’s statement on the first anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre]

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) commemorates today the first year since 58 people, among them 32 journalists and mediaworkers, were killed in broad daylight by men whom witnesses claimare members of the Ampatuan political clan and their armed followers in Maguindanao province in the Philippines.

We at SEAPA are gravely concerned at the slow pace of the trialagainst the 17 accused–including Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., son ofthe Maguindanao governor and mayor of Datu Unsay town; policemenand militiamen. The trial started only in September this year, or10 months after the massacre.

We also denounce the attempts to derail the case with the killingof a potential witness and the harassment of several more. We urgethe administration of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III toensure the protection of the current witnesses and their families,and provide safety for individuals who will testify against theaccused.

Most of all, we demand for justice in the Ampatuan massacre case,not only for the number of victims nor of the heinousness of thecrime itself, but also for the involvement of certain localgovernment officials and other agents of the state in this barbaricact. The government should not let the Ampatuan clan or itspolitical allies interfere with the meting out of justice againstthe accused.

Which leads us to the broader issue–that of impunity. The Philippines still holds the dubious world record of having the most number of journalists killed in a single incident. And the Philippines is not even considered a war zone like Iraq or Afghanistan. Where journalists are threatened and even killed just for performing their duty, press freedom is truly in danger. And where press freedom is in peril, then the general public is deprived of its right to know and participate in the democratic processes.

We call on President Aquino to ensure that justice is truly servedin the Ampatuan multiple murder trial. Obtaining justice for thevictims of this massacre will also serve as a major step in makingimpunity a thing of the past in the Philippines.

Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI)

Institute for Studies on the Free Flow of Information (ISAI);

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)

Thai Journalists Association (TJA)