Broken vow

WITH only five months left before he steps down from office, President Benigno Aquino III has yet to fulfill one of his campaign promises in the 2010 presidential election: to bring resolve to the Maguindanao massacre.
Who could ever forget that fateful day on November 23, 2009, when a private army (allegedly led by the Ampatuan clan) killed a 58-person convoy, on their way to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. The news made international headlines and was tagged as one of the most heinous election-related crimes in history.
With 32 of the victims killed during the carnage identified as media practitioners, the incident is easily recognizable as the single worst act of extrajudicial killing and reiterating that the Philippines is indeed a dangerous country for journalists.
These 32 victims are among 2,297 journalists and media staff who have been killed in the last 25 years. In its recent report, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said that these journalists were killed for doing nothing more than trying to inform the world about war, revolution, crime and corruption.
The report added that Iraq topped the list of the most dangerous countries for journalists with 309 killings. The Philippines ranked second with 146 killings, but IFJ underscored the “recurring finding of our reports that there are many more killed in peacetime situations than in war-stricken countries.”
“The Ampatuan Massacre remains the key focal point of the Philippines media’s battle with impunity, but it must be stressed that the killing of journalists didn’t start on November 23, 2009, nor did it end there. At least 40 journalists have been killed since. Since 1986, when the People Power uprising against the Marcos dictatorship brought democratic institutions back to the Philippines, 180 media workers have been killed. And as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) continues to point out, it is inevitably only the gunmen who are pursued,” IFJ noted.
On its sixth anniversary in November last year, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife, some relatives and supporters, expressed his disappointment that six years after the killings, the court had yet to decide on the case.
“It’s been six long, agonizing years. Where is justice?” Mangudadatu said.
The Aquino administration asserted that it remains committed to bringing justice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre and their families but speeding up the trial solely rests on the judiciary.
The Dept. of Justice gave a marching order for the swift resolution of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre. It directed state prosecutors to oppose any dilatory tactics and vowed to have convictions, particularly on the principal accused, by 2016 before President Aquino steps down.
“Make no mistake, we are very concerned also. We would certainly like to have the trial of the Ampatuan case hastened as well and, in fact, we do want to see a decision before the President leaves office. But is it something within our control? That is not within our control,” Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said responding to criticism about the slow-paced trial of the case.
The outcome of the Maguindanao massacre trials will dictate whether the Philippines is a country has learned its lesson to put an end to violence and impunity—or one that is condemned to repeat the same mistakes.
When justice is delayed, is justice denied? This pithy aphorism seems to be fitting for the relatives of the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao killings. Six years later, the faltering steps for truth and justice have brought more than 200 people implicated in the massacre, topped by members of the Ampatuan clan. Some have been arrested, others were arraigned. But for the victim’s family, justice remains elusive until a conviction is passed. (AJPress)

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