IT WAS a gathering repeated over and over again for the past 57 months. This time, on the grounds of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines office in Quezon City, Philippines, journalists, families and friends of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre gathered to light candles and rekindle hope as the case dragged on to its 57th month yesterday, August 23, 2014.
The Ampatuan Massacre is considered the worst single attack on journalists worldwide. Thirty-two of those killed in the sub-village of Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province in southern Philippines were journalists and media workers. They were part of a group that was supposed to deliver the certificate of candidacy of now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu.
Then Maguindanao Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., a close ally of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is suspected to have ordered the killing. His son, Andal Jr., is alleged to have directed the killings on the ground.
The Ampatuan Massacre case is now being heard by a regional trial court in Quezon City, still stuck after several years on the motions for bail filed by several of the principal accused. Public and private prosecutors are at odds over the handling of the case (“Don’t rest case yet, media groups warn Maguindanao prosecutors”), with some private prosecutors saying that the premature resting of the evidence-in-chief would derail the search for justice for the victims and their families.
There were also allegations that some public prosecutors, including a justice undersecretary, have been bribed while families of the victims exposed attempts to pay them off in exchange for withdrawing from the complaint (“We Want Justice, Not Money”).
Meanwhile, lawyers of several of the principal accused, including Andal Sr. and Andal Jr., withdrew from the case (“I was conflicted, Fortun explains why he quit as Ampatuan counsel”). For more information and background about the massacre, you can go to the Ampatuan Trial Watch microblog site of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
This video short produced by PCIJ’s Julius D. Mariveles tells you in brief about the commemoration activity on the 57th month of the Ampatuan Massacre.
[DISCLOSURE: The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism is a founding member of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists that seeks to, among others, raise awareness on media killings, promote responsible journalism, and provide immediate assistance to the families of journalists killed in the line of duty.]