An international organization representing over half a million journalists from 134 countries has concluded a mission to revisit the Maguindanao Massacre of 58 persons, and cast much of the blame for the zero convictions, five years after the crime, on the Aquino administration.
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MANILA – (UPDATED 9:45PM) An international organization representing over half a million journalists from 134 countries has concluded a mission to revisit the Maguindanao Massacre of 58 persons, and cast much of the blame for the zero convictions, five years after the crime, on the Aquino administration.
A Palace official insisted, however, that the Aquino government was determined to see justice rendered comprehensively and satisfactorily, and said authorities were investigating the recent murder of a man described as a former aide of the principal accused and who was said to be ready to testify for the prosecution.
In a joint statement issued Sunday with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said, “President Benigno Aquino III’s failure to deliver a secure environment and enforce a respect for basic human rights cultivates an atmosphere that is deadly for journalists in the country.”
Global media bodies have descended on the Philippines the past few days as the nation marked the fifth anniversary of the Nov. 23, 2009 killings of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers.
The IFJ, with 600,000 members worldwide, sent a delegation to “investigate, together with the NUJP, the government’s efforts to secure justice for the victims of the massacre.” The IFJ said it conducted several missions to the Philippines in the wake of the massacre and repeatedly made recommendations and requests to the government.
IFJ Asia-Pacific acting director, Jane Worthington said: “Not even four and a half years into his term, a further 33 journalists have now been murdered as result – more than the massacre itself.
“The Philippines is undoubtedly an epicenter of impunity and this massacre puts the world’s attention on the inability of governments to investigate crimes against journalists. This was the single largest slaughter of media workers and five years on not a single conviction has been recorded.”
Australian representative Mike Dobbie, who has led all IFJ missions since 2009, said: “It’s clear there has been little progress in ensuring justice for the massacre victims, while the suspects in the crime continue to make efforts to stall the case at every turn.”
The NUJP said for its part: “It is time the Philippines Government shows the leadership that the international community has been demanding. At the same time, political expediency must not thwart the proper legal process from being fully observed.”
Gov’t determined to give justice to victims – Palace
A Palace official stressed Sunday, however that the government means to have the case resolved justly and promptly.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a press statement:
”The government is determined to see the granting of complete justice.” The Department of Justice (DOJ), along with other government agencies and the private sector, is working hard to pin down the culprits, he added.
”The case is a litmus test of the Philippine justice system. It is the prosecution’s aspiration that we achieve convictions of at least the principal accused during this administration. That is the President’s challenge to the Department of Justice,” Coloma said, quoting a statement from DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima.
Coloma said the government is also pushing massive reforms in the justice system to finally end the famous saying “justice delayed is justice denied.”
”A slow move of justice is unacceptable to our people,” Coloma said.
The PCOO official assured that the government would not stop pushing the case and from giving protection for free expression, “which is the important advocate for significant democracy.”
He said the Palace was saddened by the killing of Dennix Sakal, an alleged former aide of Maguindanao massacre suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Sakal, who was ambushed last week, reportedly would have turned witness in the trial against the Ampatuan clan if he was able to sign an affidavit.
”The killing is now being investigated and we are saddened by this incident because it is important to have a credible witness,” Coloma said.
Coloma said the DOJ has already presented 147 witnesses during the trial and the defense is planning to present 300 more witnesses.
Media killings a ‘Southeast Asian trend’
Meanwhile, Schave De Rozario, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Malaysia and representative of the South East Asia Journalists Union (SEAJU), sees the coldblooded murders of journalists as the apparent solution of choice resorted to by politically linked groups, the powerful and corrupt in the South-East Asian region.
De Rosario said: “The scourge of impunity across the region as a result of this massacre indicates that these forces in the region believe that it is OK to kill journalists and for politicians to do nothing. The region needs action and governments must move to protect media freedom”.
Philippa McDonald, vice president of the journalists union in Australia (the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, MEAA) and a director of Oceania’s Media, Safety and Solidarity Fund says: “It’s heartbreaking to witness the grief and the trauma of the families of the victims, five years on”.
“Children are growing up without a breadwinner, families are facing dreadful financial hardship and they’re suffering enormously. Their faith that justice will be delivered is severely shaken.”
In meetings on Saturday, President Aquino’s Undersecretary for Legislative, Policy and Legal Affairs in the Presidential Communications Operations Office Jess Anthony Q. Yu said the President would respond publicly today to the mission’s concerns, said NUJP.
Meanwhile, according to an NUJP press release, Justice Secretary De Lima acknowledged the failings of the judicial system. She told the mission: “I am not going to deny there is no longer a culture of impunity in our country. There is still a culture of impunity and that is something that we’re trying to address and eradicate.”
The mission members said they are encouraged by her remarks that financial support for the families of the victims is on her agenda and she is intending to raise it with President Aquino.
InterAksyon.com editor Nonoy Espina, who is also director of the NUJP, walks with Editha Tiamzon, widow of Daniel Tiamzon of UNTV, through the art installation commemorating the fifth anniversary of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, at the Bantayog ng Bayani. (NUJP photo)
His deputy presidential spokesperson had said Saturday the President’s stand remains thus: no reparations or compensation are considered for families of victims because the crime was neither done nor encouraged by the State; but other forms of assistance are possible.
BELOW ARE EXCERPTS OF THE IFJ-NUJP JOINT STATEMENT ISSUED SUNDAY, NOV. 23:
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) are accusing the Aquino government of a failure to protect the lives of journalists in the Philippines. The IFJ and NUJP conducted a mission in the country this week, the 5th anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre.
The Philippines is today the focus of a global campaign by national and international media and human rights groups with journalists and advocates commemorating the horrific loss of life that took place when a convoy was stopped in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009. In all, 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, were led to their deaths. The massacre was allegedly orchestrated and executed by members of the Ampatuan clan in concert with their private militia and members of the Philippines National Police. Many of the bodies, as well as vehicles, were buried in mass pre-dug graves.
The IFJ-NUJP mission comprises international and Filipino representatives. The mission has visited the massacre site, spoken to families of the victims and members of the local media community in southern Mindanao and is currently meeting with police, justice and government representatives including Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.
The IFJ-NUJP mission notes that there are still 84 suspects who have been charged but remain at large due to ineffective law enforcement and a lack of will to apprehend them despite the fact that many are members of the Ampatuan clan, the Philippines National Police or Civilian Volunteer Organisation members (paramilitary members).
The IFJ, which represents more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries, has returned to the Philippines with an international delegation to investigate, together with the NUJP, the government’s efforts to secure justice for the victims of the massacre. The IFJ has conducted several missions to the Philippines in the wake of the massacre and repeatedly made recommendations and requests to the government.
President Benigno Aquino III’s failure to deliver a secure environment and enforce a respect for basic human rights cultivates an atmosphere that is deadly for journalists in the country, the mission says.
The IFJ-NUJP mission has key concerns and will issue a full report on December 23 – five years and one month since the massacre:
- A climate of fear continues to pervade southern Mindanao, and has led to self-censorship and safety fears for local media;
- Media organisations have failed to address the safety issues affecting their staff;
- Witnesses in the case remain vulnerable with one being killed in the past week taking to at least four who have been murdered before giving evidence in the trial;
Five years on and the families of the victims continue to suffer financially and psychologically and more must be done to support them particularly as they have been subject to offers of bribes to drop their civil actions in the case.