Relatives of Ampatuan victims call on Duterte to help them attain justice
Relatives of the victims of the killings of 58 people, mostly journalists, in Maguindanao province seven years ago called on Wednesday President Rodrigo Duterte to help them achieve justice for the death of their loved ones.
"Every year we are here (calling for justice) and yet nothing has changed," said Arlene Lupugan, wife of a broadcaster from Davao City who was one among those 32 journalists killed on November 23, 2009 in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town.
Lupugan, 40, joined 40 others, mostly student journalists, in a rally held in Mendiola, a few meters away from Malacanang to commemorate the 7th year of the "Ampatuan Massacre."
The Ampatuan massacre is considered as the worst incident of electoral violence in the country's recent history.
The incident took place while the victims were on board a convoy of vehicles carrying also the wife and siblings of now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu to file the certificate of candidacy of the latter for the 2010 elections.
Other civilians, who were not part of the group, were also killed by the armed men allegedly led by Andal Ampatuan Jr. because they happened to be near the convoy.
In a case update, Supreme Court spokesman Theodore Te said trial is “more than halfway” since it began six years ago.
Te said the defense is now presenting evidence. “Nine of the accused who were the subject of the first batch of defense formal offer of evidence resolved by the Court on June 13, 2016 have already either presented their defense evidence or filed a demurrer to evidence. Only one accused of the nine is still presenting defense evidence,” the SC said.
Lupugan expressed dismay for the past seven years, no one from 195 suspects, including those from the influential Ampatuan clan, has been convicted.
Former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., one of the suspected masterminds in the massacre, died while in detention.
"I am calling on our president, I also came from Davao City, to help us fast-track the (resolution) of the case," Lupugan said.
Glena Legarta, 32, wife of a journalist who was also murdered, echoed Lupugan's call to Duterte.
"I hope that under this administration, we will get justice," said the widow from Koronadal City.
She recalled that during the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, he promised to help them get justice. But nothing happened, she said.
Aquino had said on the part of the executive branch, they tried their best to fast-track the resolution of the case. But the ball was on the judiciary an independent branch of government, he had said.
According to the two mothers, who have three children, since the death of their husband, they have been receiving support from their relatives and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) to send their children to school.
Danilo Arao, associate journalism professor of the University of the Philippines, expressed hope the welfare of journalists would be protected under the Duterte administration, citing the task force against the media killings that the government created.
While there was an apparent improvement on the situation of journalists under the government Arao, who was among those who participated in the Mendiola rally, he cited the increasing number of extrajudicial killings involving drug suspects, reaching about 4,000.
"These (extrajudicial killings) have chilling effect not on the media, but to others," he said.
Arao, a founding member of the Alternative Media Network, which has more than 50 members, said their group, along with other journalist groups, has been seeking a dialogue with the President to personally ask his commitment in addressing the Ampatuan Massacre.
NUJP, which co-organized the Mendiola rally, warned of more threats on the independence of the press in the country.
"Seven years after Ampatuan, we fear that the worst is yet to come and the seekers of truth will be faced with ever more danger from those who see our work as anathema to their pursuit of an order built not on compassion but brute for force, not on the realities we all face but the distorted picture they would force us to accept," it added. Celerina Monte/DMS