This Sunday, media rights activists and victims’ families will mark 1,000 days since the Magindanao killings. The ambush and shooting was the worst election violence in Philippine history and the single deadliest assault on journalists worldwide. On November 23, 2009, 58 people, including 32 journalists, were killed in the southern Philippines ahead of regional elections. Within months, the Justice Department filed charges against nearly 200 members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, but ahead of this weekend’s milestone, it’s worth asking: after 1,000 days, has justice been carried out?
Six members of the Ampatuan clan are on trial, but recently key witnesses are showing up dead, including one gunman for the Ampatuans who testified that he had driven armed men to the site of the killings. The targeting of witnesses is deeply troubling, but the government’s inaction in the face of the murders is equally worrisome for hopes of a fair and open trial.
A researcher with Human Rights Watch described the terror that these killings have created for other witnesses who play a key role in the prosecution:
“I’ve spoken with some witnesses and they told me that they don’t feel safe at all, and their families are likewise exposed to this danger,” he said.
“They told me that they’re convinced that people intend to harm them, although many of these witnesses who’ve already testified in the trial and those who have been listed as witnesses, are under the protection of the government.”
Current President Benigno Aquino, III has pledged to root out corruption and waste in the government and has brought legal action against his predecessor Macapagal-Arroyo, who had ties to the Ampatuans and left office amid several scandals, but families of those killed in the massacre have understandably called for swifter accountability in the Magindanao case.
The overnight vigil will begin Sunday evening at Bantayog ng mga Bayani located at EDSA corner Quezon Avenue. Details here.
Part of the activities are the screening of this excellent film from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism:
You can also hear our update on Free Speech Radio News from last year tracking the justice system’s failure to hold the accused accountable: