Media massacre witness killed, another wounded, in the Philippines

Bangkok, November 20, 2014–A state witness in the mass killing of 57 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in the Philippines in 2009 was shot dead by assailants on Tuesday while traveling in a remote area of southern Maguindanao province, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the killing and calls upon Philippine authorities to identify, apprehend, and prosecute the attackers.

Dennix Sakal and Butch Saudagal, witnesses to the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and alleged former employees of the accused Ampatuan political clan, were ambushed by assailants while riding on a motorized tricycle in Bagong village near the town of Sharif Aguak, according to news reports. The two were headed to meet state prosecutors to formalize their testimony, reports said.

Sakal, a former driver for Andal Ampatuan Jr., former Datu Unsay town mayor and a principal suspect in the crime, died instantly from multiple bullet wounds, news reports said. Saudagal was receiving treatment at a hospital for an arm injury, according to reports.

Maguindanao Province Police Chief Rodelio Jocson said authorities would file murder charges against people identified by at least two eyewitnesses, according to a Bloomberg report. Police recovered 27 shell casings from the crime scene, the report said.

Sakal is the fourth witness to have been killed since court proceedings in the case began in 2010, news reports said. His murder comes days before the five-year anniversary of the November 23, 2009, massacre in Maguindanao, the single largest violation of the press CPJ has ever recorded.

“The killing of yet another witness in the Maguindanao massacre case aims to subvert the legal process by undermining the prosecution’s case against members of the politically powerful Ampatuan clan,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “We are outraged that authorities have failed to protect witnesses. This sabotages efforts to break the cycle of impunity in journalist murders in the Philippines.”

Currently, 111 out of 195 suspects are on trial in the case, including senior members of the politically influential Ampatuan clan, according to news reports. Proceedings in the case have bogged down in various stalling tactics, and allegations are now under investigation by the Department of Justice that some state prosecutors may have received bribes to subvert the legal process. Prosecutors have denied the allegations.