British envoy joins calls for swift justice for massacre victimsBy Charlie Señase and Germelina Lacorte
COTABATO CITY, Philippines–British Ambassador to the Philippines Stephen Lillie has agreed that only the successful prosecution of those involved in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre can assure the delivery of justice to the 58 victims, 32 of them media workers, and their relatives.
Lillie issued the statement, coursed Friday through the office of Governor in-charge Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, in time for the commemoration of the third anniversary of the massacre in Ampatuan town.
“While nothing can be done to bring back the lives lost, bringing the perpetrators to justice will go some way to help the victims’ families cope with their loss. The swift resolution and successful prosecution of anyone guilty of involvement in these crimes would reinforce the UK and the Philippines’ shared aspiration of upholding a democratic society where human rights and individual freedoms flourish,” Lillie said.
“The UK stands in solidarity with the Filipino people and the victims’ families in honoring the memory of those who died in the Maguindanao massacre,” he added.
Hataman, who led a candle lighting tree planting event to commemorate the massacre, said he also wants swift justice served.
But at least seven media organizations said instead of serving justice to the victims’ families, there has been apparent inaction by the government on the cases against the alleged massacre masterminds, including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons Zaldy and prime suspect Andal Jr.
The victims’ families appear to lose hope in the justice system, and the government has only itself to blame, said a statement prepared by the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, and the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications.
The journalist groups said that to date, “only two of the eight Ampatuan clan members in jail have been arraigned.”
“Some witnesses have died. Some relatives of the victims have fled their hometowns following receipt of death threats,” they said.
“Even as fear of reprisals continue to haunt witnesses and plaintiffs in the case, the government of Mr. Aquino and other major political parties in the country have embraced the Ampatuan clan,” the statement added.
At least 72 Ampatuan clan members are candidates in the May 2013 elections with 9 of them running under the Aquino administration’s Liberal Party and 34 others under Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance.
The big number of candidates from the clan bares an intact financial and power infrastructure, the journalist groups said.
In fact, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism said detained Andal Jr. has managed to sell eight prime properties, amid the government’s pledge to forfeit the wealth of the main suspects.
“Taken together, the acts of commission and omission by the Aquino administration betray sheer lip service to justice and press freedom, and a dangerous tendency to sacrifice both to the exigencies of power,” the groups said.
The National Democratic Front in Mindanao also joined critics of the Aquino government for its alleged failure to end impunity and serve justice to the massacre victims and their relatives.
“Without vigilance the litigation may end up as the farce trial of the century,” an NDF statement said.
“Now on its third year, justice still remains elusive for the families and friends of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre, the most brutal carnage in recent history. Under the Aquino government, the court case against the Ampatuan clan has become even more tortuous and is turning into a farce. Since the case opened, the legal procedure, swamped with motions filed by the litigators for and in behalf of the Ampatuans accused, is almost at a standstill. Justice delayed is justice denied,” the NDF said.
The NDF also faulted the Aquino government for the deaths of at least three witnesses in the massacre.
“At present, at least three of the stronger witnesses have already been murdered; and their perpetual silence, which in larger context is due to the reactionary state’s inability to protect them, lends more credence to the claim of ‘innocence’ of the Ampatuan warlords. This also sends a message of terror to other witnesses, who now choose to voluntarily muzzle themselves rather than end up dead,” it said.
The NDF said because of its failure to provide protection to the witnesses, the Aquino government has “become an accomplice to the injustice bestowed on the victims of the Ampatuan massacre, as well as their families and friends and other victims of state-sponsored extra-judicial killings.”
“Moreover, since the Ampatuan massacre is virtually a slaughter of the freedom of expression of the Filipino people, the recent policy foisted by the reactionary courts to limit media coverage of the trial only manifests Aquino’s contempt at attaining true justice for members of the mass media,” the NDF statement added.
“If you want to see the state of impunity in the country, just look at the Ampatuan massacre case,” Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said during a visit to Davao City.
“Look at how it is doing now, sa hinaba-haba ng (with the length of the) trial, the people’s attention dissipates, people lose interest, documentary evidence lost, memory blurs and public interest wanes,” he said.
Colmenares said despite catching the attention of the world, the trial of the accused continues to be delayed.
“We don’t even remember the update, isn’t that worrisome? And yet, that’s a measurement of how the case is doing now,” he said.