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Third witness killed in Ampatuan case confirms impunity still rampant

Investigators work to recover bodies of victims in the days following the Ampatuan massacre. Esmail Amil Enog, who drove gunmen to the site, was killed last week
Investigators work to recover bodies of victims in the days following the Ampatuan massacre. Esmail Amil Enog, who drove gunmen to the site, was killed last week

Erik de Castro/REUTERS

A key witness in the Philippines' Ampatuan massacre has been killed, in what looks like an attempt to eliminate anyone who could testify in court against those accused of taking part in the world's deadliest assault on journalists, report the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

The witness, Esmail Amil Enog, testified last year that he had driven gunmen to the site of the massacre, in which at least 57 people were killed, 31 of whom were journalists, report the members.

Nena Santos, a prosecutor in the case, said Enog was found two months after he had disappeared, and looks to have been mutilated and dismembered before being killed, reports "The New York Times".

According to The Associated Press, he had refused the government's witness protection programme because he did not want to be separated from his family.

On 23 November 2009, the 57 people were killed when their convoy was ambushed en route to registering an opposition candidate for provincial governor in the southern province of Maguindanao.

Enog was a driver for the Ampatuan family, who has controlled Maguindanao since 2001 with its own private army. Last July, he testified that he had driven 36 Ampatuan militiamen from one of the clan member's homes to the site where the victims were shot.

"He could identify who ordered him to bring the shooters to the scene," said CMFR. "This is a serious loss to the prosecution's case."

According to news reports, Enog was the third witness to be killed since the trial opened in 2010. More than 20 witnesses have testified against 103 suspects who have pleaded not guilty to murder charges. Nearly 100 others are still at large.

A verdict has yet to be announced in the massacre.

Witnesses and their families continue to face death threats and some are being offered bribes not to testify, report the members. A sibling of another witness also has been killed, Santos told news reporters.

Meanwhile, CPJ has recorded four more journalists who were killed for their work since the Ampatuan massacre, and another seven in which they have not been able to clearly determine a motive.

"In virtually all of those cases there has been little more than an inconclusive, cursory investigation, with few cases getting beyond the short-term arrests of low-level suspects," said CPJ.

Nationally, President Ninoy Aquino promised, both before and after getting elected, to achieve justice in the Ampatuan case. "Well into his six-year term, it does not look like he will be able to deliver on those promises," says CPJ.

On the international scene, the Philippines' human rights record is currently under review before the UN Human Rights Council. According to ARTICLE 19, violence against journalists and activists has "dramatically increased" since the first review in 2008.

ARTICLE 19, along with CMFR, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance and other rights groups, called on member states to raise concerns to the Philippines regarding violence against individuals exercising their right to free speech and condemning the culture of impunity.

At least 22 countries expressed concerns on the continuing spate of extrajudicial killings and impunity, according to Philippine UPR Watch. Several countries also called on the Philippine government to dismantle all paramilitary groups and militias like the Ampatuans, another recommendation from the groups.

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