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One year on, massacre victims face hurdles to justice

(CPJ/IFEX) - Manila, November 10, 2010 - Intimidation of witnesses, violence, and a faltering judicial system threaten the possibility of justice in the killing of 32 journalists and media workers in Maguindanao province in the Philippines almost one year ago, according to a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The report, "Impunity on trial in the Philippines," found that the victims' families have been offered bribes to step away from the case, witnesses have been killed or intimidated, law enforcement officials have mismanaged evidence, and forensic investigations are deeply flawed.

"The disturbing pattern of actions meant to undermine justice in the murder cases of Philippine journalists continues," said Shawn Crispin, CPJ's senior Southeast Asia representative and author of the report. "Survivors' families and witnesses need protection from those who want impunity to prevail."

The killings left a total of 57 people dead on November 23, 2009, in an election convoy in Maguindanao. Only 19 of 196 suspects - including the alleged mastermind, Andal Ampatuan Jr. - are currently on trial for one of the murders. Another 47 suspects in custody have yet to be arraigned. "The fact that six members of the Ampatuan clan are in detention is an encouraging sign," said Crispin. "Yet with more than 100 suspects at large, including police officials and members of the Ampatuans' militia, we are concerned that the government will not bring full justice in any of these murders."

In a companion piece, CPJ's María Salazar-Ferro examines international efforts to aid victims' families, and how one woman is leading the efforts for justice and recovery.

The CPJ report includes recommendations to strengthen the Philippines' justice system, including increasing resources and financing for witness protection as well as investigative technology and techniques. In August, a CPJ delegation met with senior justice officials in Manila and called on the government of President Benigno Aquino to address pervasive impunity in the recurring murders of journalists in the country.

The Philippines ranks third worst in the world on CPJ's Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and the crimes are not solved. Since 1992, 68 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines. There have only been five convictions, CPJ research shows.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation underwrites CPJ's Global Campaign against Impunity, which focuses on the Philippines and Russia.

Click here for the full report
For a look at the victims' families, click here
Click here for a podcast with CPJ's Bob Dietz that examines forensic flaws
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