The gesture was part of a wider protest on Wednesday calling
upon President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to ensure justice for the victims
of the Maguindanao massacre, in which at least 30 journalists and support
staff were among the 57 people brutally killed in a premeditated attack outside
of Ampatuan on the southern
The march and rally in Manila was one of many held around the world in front of Philippine embassies and government offices in a global day of action against what has been characterized as the single largest attack against working journalists ever recorded. A number of suspects linked to the area’s ruling Ampatuan clan, including Andal Ampatuan Jr, the mayor of Dato Unsay town, have been arrested and charged for the premeditated mass murder.
CPJ participated in a recently concluded joint mission led by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to express solidarity with our Philippine journalist colleagues and join the call on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s government to take decisive action to ensure a swift and transparent trial and end the culture of impunity in media killings across the country.
The multi-group delegation—including the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, the Indonesian Alliance of Independent Journalists, International Media Support, the Thai Journalists’ Association and others—traveled to Mindanao’s General Santos City to meet with local journalists, the relatives of victims, and local prosecutors responsible for building a case against the suspects.
Our meeting with the slain journalists’ family members put
faces to the massacre’s death toll. Many spouses feared for their children’s
future and that the politically powerful suspects would evade justice—as has
happened with so many previous
media killings in
An assembly of local journalists situated in the towns near the site of the massacre underlined the trauma felt by many survivors. When we spoke with them, some noted that the security protocols they implemented for reporting in dangerous areas—including traveling in numbers to mitigate risks and asking relevant authorities ahead of dangerous assignments to provide security—had failed to save their friends and colleagues.
Many more feared for their safety in reporting on the massacre’s aftermath, explaining why several reports on the massacre have run without bylines or datelines in both national and local newspapers. One reporter told the assembly that unidentified men had photographed journalists when they reported on the arrests of Ampatuan clan members and the military’s discovery of their underground private armory.
Meanwhile a local prosecutor tasked with building the case
against the accused lamented the lack of coordination between his panel and the
police officials who had gathered evidence. He also expressed concerns that his
team was already severely under-resourced and uneasy about its own security.
Even before the Maguindanao massacre, it was common for public prosecutors
pursuing media killing cases in
Just as worrying are the preliminary indications that evidence from the crime scene may have been contaminated by the military’s use of backhoes to extract bodies from the massacre site’s pits. It’s unclear if those operations were an intentional official attempt to undermine the case against the politically powerful accused or rather the unintentional mishandling by officials inexperienced in dealing with such a huge and complicated crime scene.
Late today, the
is legitimate cause for concern that the case will never be fully prosecuted.
CPJ ranks the
The local prosecutor who spoke with the delegation said that there was still plenty of evidence to make murder charges stick, despite the military’s apparently botched handling of the bodies. Presidential Advisor for Mindanao Jesus Dureza told the joint mission that the government had already compiled 70 percent of the evidence it needed to secure convictions, including what he claimed were eyewitnesses who have agreed to testify.
But the politically powerful masterminds behind previous
media killings in
That is one reason why the NUJP and other press freedom groups have called on her government to establish a special tribunal situated outside of Maguindanao in a neutral setting to ensure a speedy, secure, and transparent trial. Presidential Press Secretary Cerge Remonde told the joint mission that the government would “not rule out” the creation of such a tribunal to handle the case and that it would welcome international monitoring of the legal proceedings.
Supreme Court’s recent rulings allowing for changes of venue in a handful
of media murder cases from potentially compromised local courts to courts within