Thursday, November 20, 2014

Honouring the Ampatuan massacre victims as fight for justice goes on

A grim reminder of the Maguindanao, or Ampatuan, massacre on 23 November 2009. Photo: DanRogayan
A TOP Filipino investigative journalist will be speaking about the “worst attack” on journalists in history and her country’s culture of impunity in a keynote address at a media education conference at AUT University next week.

Ces Oreña-Drilon, an anchor for the ABS-CBN flagship current affairs programme Bandila, has been investigating the 2009 Maguindanao massacre when 32 journalists were among the 58 people killed in the atrocity carried out by private militia recruited by a local warlord.

She has been reporting on the controversial legal and political contest around the massacre with nobody yet having been successfully prosecuted out of almost 200 people charged over the killings.

Drilon will give a keynote address at the “Political reporting in the Asia-Pacific” conference hosted by the Pacific Media Centre on November 27-29. The conference marks 20 years of publication of Pacific Journalism Review.

The fifth anniversary of the massacre is this Sunday and there is still no justice for the families of the victims.

Filipino media freedom activists plan a candlelight vigil in honour of the victims and their families at the PJR2014 conference.

This week the International Federation of Journalists has joined its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines in their week-long campaign to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao.

Journalist protesters calling for justice over the massacre.
The IFJ and NUJP said in a statement they were “outraged at the lack of progress in the case that has yet to make one successful prosecution and 98 suspected perpetrators remain at large”.

An IFJ mission following the killings, Massacre in the Philippines, found that the murders could not have taken place without the existing culture of impunity in the Philippines – “particularly regarding extrajudicial killings and attacks on the media”.

This week two potential witnesses were ambushed while on their way to meet their lawyers - four days before the massacre anniversary. One man was killed at the scene and the other is seriously wounded in hospital.

In a report last month, Ces Drilon revealed that the court handling the Maguindanao massacre case had allowed 17 policemen accused in the brutal killings to be freed on bail.

Pacific Media Watch reported that Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes allowed the policemen to post bail.

The court said the evidence of guilt against the 17 policemen, members of the 1508th Provincial Mobile Group, was "not strong".

Flagged down
The police were alleged to have set up a checkpoint in Sitio Malating in Ampatuan town where the victims were flagged down.

Remembering the victims.
The victims, including the 32 journalists, were accompanying relatives of then Maguindanao politician Toto Mangudadatu in his filing of certificate of candidacy in Philippines elections.

The court prescribed a bail of P200,000 (NZ$5800) for each of the 58 counts of murder.

There are 58 counts of murder in the Maguindanao massacre case. This means that each policeman needed to post a bail of P11.6 million (NZ$336,000) in order to gain temporary freedom.

The Maguindanao massacre has been described as the single worst attack against journalists in history, and the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.
Police crime lab officers gathering forensic evidence at the scene of the Maguindanao massacre.
Photo: Wawan

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