Stop killing journalists! End impunity now!
By NDFP National Executive Committee
The National Democratic Front of the Philippines joins the nation and the international community in commemorating the 5th anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre, in which 58 people, 32 of them journalists, were brutally murdered in Maguindanao province.
The NDFP expresses its full support to local and international media organizations who have been calling for an end to the prevailing culture of impunity, which they say only emboldens those in power to commit atrocities as gruesome and brazen as the Ampatuan massacre.
Now dubbed as the most violent single election-related incident in the Philippines and the worst attack on the press in history, the Ampatuan massacre was carried out on orders of the powerful warlord Ampatuan clan. Facing multiple murder charges are at least 15 members of the family, including Andal Ampatuan Sr. and son Andal Ampatuan Jr., then mayor of Dato Unsay, who has been pinpointed by witnesses as being involved in shooting many of the victims himself.
Also charged are at least a hundred members of the local Philippine National Police (PNP), the paramilitary Citizens’ Armed Forces Geographical Unit (CAFGU), and the Ampatuan’s private army. They were part of the armed contingent that abducted the convoy accompanying the wife of Buluan Vice Mayor Ishmael Mangudadatu and her family who were on their way to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak to file the certificate of candidacy of Ishmael Mangudadatu for governor of Maguindanao.
Five long years have passed since then, but the court proceedings have only dragged on under Aquino’s watch. In fact, recent developments surrounding the case are leading many to believe that the massacre, despite strong international outcry, would just be added to the long list of unsolved political killings in the Philippines.
The NDFP takes note of the following:
the attack last November 18 on two key witnesses, which resulted in the death of Dennis Sakal, the former driver of Ampatuan Sr., and the wounding of Sukarno Butch Saudagal, allegedly the former bagman of Ampatuan Jr. Sakal’s death brings to four the total number of witnesses killed so far;
the failure of the authorities to arrest 98 suspects who remain at-large;
the granting of bail petitions to the 41 accused policemen, after the court found that the evidence of guilt against them is “not strong”;
the promotion of Brig. Gen. Medardo Geslani, then head of the Army’s 601st Brigade, who turned down the victims’ request for security escort;
the reported bribe accepted by the prosecution team; and
the continued threats being received by the victims’ relatives and pressures on them to settle amicably with the Ampatuans.
The NDFP strongly condemns the Aquino regime for this state of affairs. Aquino’s lackadaisical attitude towards the case has allowed the Ampatuans, with their ill-gotten wealth remaining intact, to delay the court proceedings and, in turn, bastardize the country’s already dysfunctional judicial system.
Worse, his indifference to calls to stop extrajudicial killings in the Philippines has only emboldened those in power to have no qualms in eliminating their critics, not excluding journalists.
Once criticized for not knowing the correct number of victims in the Ampatuan massacre, Aquino has also got the goat of media practitioners when he dismissed media killings as not always work-related. According to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a total of 33 journalists have been killed in the line of duty since Aquino took office in 2010.
President Aquino’s lack of willingness to punish the Ampatuans for this crime has long been established just more than three years after the Ampatuan massacre, when at least 72 Ampatuan clan members managed to run as candidates in the May 2013 elections, nine of them under the banner of Aquino’s Liberal Party.
As the NDFP already pointed out in a previous statement on the Ampatuan massacre, the Ampatuans, just like the other warlord clans all over the country, continue to enjoy the favor and protection of those in Malacañang for delivering votes through massive fraud and brute force, as in the case of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo whose one-million winning margin in the 2004 presidential elections was a product of the Ampatuans’ electoral hocus-pocus in Maguindanao.
Nothing has changed under Aquino who, just like his predecessors, has only entrenched the politics of warlordism and patronage in the Philippines by way of bribing these clans via the so-called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), both of which were recently declared by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional, aside from arming the private armies maintained by warlord clans.
It is in view of all this that the NDFP reiterates its call that those behind the Ampatuan massacre are finally brought to justice.