Families of 58 massacre victims decry slow pace of justice

Markers show the names of the victims of the 2009 massacre of 58 people, including 34 journalists, at the site of the killings in the southern Philippine town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao province. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)

Eight years later no suspect has been brought to book for one of the worst civilian atrocities in Philippine history

Bong Sarmiento, Cotabato Philippines November 24, 2017

Justice remains elusive for victims eight years after a massacre in the southern Philippines in which 58 people, including 34 journalists, were killed, according to their families.

The atrocity, which took place on Nov. 23, 2009 in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province, has since been called by the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York as the “single deadliest event for journalists in history.”

Families of the victims and Philippine media groups decried the long wait for justice during activities to mark the anniversary of the massacre Nov. 23.

“After eight years, the families of the victims are still waiting, patiently for justice to be served,” said Maria Reynafe Castillo, daughter of one of the slain journalists.

“It’s frustrating but I know and I believe in my heart that if justice will not be achieved here on earth, I’m sure justice will be served by God who is just and faithful,” she told ucanews.com.

None of the 197 people accused of the killings has been convicted. So far, only 115 suspects have been arrested.

As of Nov. 21, a local court had heard testimonies from 273 witnesses.

In a meeting with families of the victims on Nov. 23, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to resolve the case within his term, which will end in 2022.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the trial might be completed in a year.

Roque, a former lawyer for the massacre victims’ families, said he would undertake steps to fast-track a resolution of the cases.

In a statement on Nov. 22, the Supreme Court said the cases against the accused would be submitted for a verdict once the defense panel finishes its presentation of evidence.

Lawyer Nena Santos, counsel for the family of one of the victims, said she is confident the court will be able to hand down a verdict by next year.

The families earlier sought the help of Duterte “because the case is still pending and proceeding very slowly.”

On Nov. 23, 2009, some 200 armed men executed the 58 people — 20 relatives and supporters of a local politician,  34 journalists and four others.

The massacre, the worst in recent Philippine history, resulted in charges against senior members of a political clan that ruled the local area through a “private army” comprising 2,000 to 5,000 armed men.

Various motions filed by their lawyers mired legal action against the suspects. Several charges have been dropped against some of the accused, while other suspects remain at large.

Several witnesses reported threats to their lives or were offered large amounts of money to change their testimony. At least four witnesses and three relatives of the massacre victims have been killed.

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