Appeal for Suspect in Philippines Massacre Trials Rejected
November 10, 2011
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in welcoming a Court of Appeals decision rejecting the exclusion from trial of one of the main suspects in the Ampatuan Town Massacre.
Zaldy Ampatuan, a key suspect in the massacre of 58 people, including 32 media workers, on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Court of Appeals in relation to the charges against him.
His petition concerned a decision by Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra in April 2010 which found no probable cause for Ampatuan to be considered a suspect in the massacre case. Agra later overturned the decision following a public outcry by families of the massacre victims and press freedom activists.
With the Court of Appeals ruling on November 8, the NUJP says “there is no longer any reason to further delay the indictment” of Ampatuan and his co-accused.
“Almost two years after the worst atrocity ever committed against media workers, the victims’ families, colleagues and press freedom defenders eagerly await justice for those brutally murdered in the massacre,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“The IFJ sincerely hopes that proceedings in these trials can now be allowed to continue unobstructed.”
The trials of the 197 suspects in the massacre have been frustrated by Zaldy Ampatuan’s appeal and a request for a transfer to “hospital arrest”, after being admitted to the Philippine Heart Center for a medical check up.
In July, Philippines Justice Secretary Leila de Lima rejected Zaldy Ampatuan’s offer to act as a state witness and testify against his alleged co-conspirators. Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), sought to be removed from the list of suspects in exchange for testimony against his father, Andal Ampatuan Sr, and brother Andal Ampatuan Jr.
The IFJ joins the NUJP in calling for the prompt arraignment of Zaldy Ampatuan and all other suspects awaiting indictment. Only 93 of the 197 suspects are in custody, and to date only 64 have been arraigned. Of the six members of the Ampatuan clan accused as principals, only two – Andal Sr. and Andal Jr. – have been arraigned.
The NUJP and other press freedom groups in the Philippines will stage several events to commemorate the second anniversary of the massacre on November 23, including a march to Mendiola, near Malacañang Presidential Palace in Manila.