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Ampatuan Massacre: will justice be served?

Allan De Los Angeles/IFEX

(CMFR/IFEX) - November 22, 2012 - The following statement was issued by CMFR in commemoration of the third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre and the Second International Day to End Impunity:

A pledge - and a reminder

Three years since the Ampatuan Massacre of November 23, 2009 claimed the lives of 58 men and women including 32 journalists and media workers, there is as yet no clear indication that the trial of the alleged planners and perpetrators will be concluded within a reasonable amount of time - or that, for this reason, it will be concluded credibly.

On the conduct and conclusion of the trial depends whether the country will finally see the end of the culture of impunity that has claimed not only the lives of journalists but also of environmentalists, reformist local officials, lawyers and judges, human rights defenders, priests engaged in community advocacies, and political activists in general - or whether, encouraged by the glacial pace of the trial and uncertainty of the culprits' ever being punished, the killers of journalists and political activists will continue to kill with impunity.

There is little to indicate that the trial will be the object lesson the killers of journalists and political activists need to learn. The killing of journalists and media workers is continuing, with 11 so far killed for their work, while over a hundred political activists and human rights defenders have similarly been killed since 2010.

For the press and the media, the third anniversary of the Massacre is also occurring in the context not only of the failure of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill to pass Congress, but also of the insistence among certain congressmen of passing either a separate Right of Reply (ROR) bill or an ROR rider in an FOI bill. The campaign for the decriminalization of libel has not only stalled; it has been weakened by the provision on online libel in the Cybercrime Prevention Act.

These developments are indicative of an official mindset contrary to the imperative of enhancing freedom of expression and press freedom. Of even more significance have been President Benigno S. Aquino III's demonstrated antipathy in both words and deeds to the press and the media, and his having ignored, for two years now, suggestions from media and journalists' organizations for him to strengthen the witness protection program, enhance the investigative capacity of the police through further training, and to lend his voice to the demand to reform the antiquated rules of court that have been a major factor in the delays in the trial of the accused in the Ampatuan Massacre and other cases of journalists and media workers killed in the line of duty.

Although he has declared that he would disband the private armies that have been so instrumental in the killing of journalists not only in Ampatuan town but also in over a hundred places throughout the country, Mr. Aquino has so far done little to do so.

And yet both Mr. Aquino and the country are running out of time, as the Philippines hurtles towards the local and national elections of 2013, during which the likelihood of more political killings and more journalists killed is likely, if past experience is any indication, unless the Aquino administration takes the concrete steps needed to prevent another orgy of violence against political partisans as well as journalists and media practitioners.

In 2010 Mr. Aquino promised much in the area of human rights and press freedom defense. The third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre should be both an occasion for journalists, media advocacy and human rights groups to renew their pledge never to forget what happened on November 23, 2009 and to continue to fight for the justice that has eluded the slain and their families, as well as an opportunity to remind the President and the nation that, for all his promises, he has so far done so little.

The campaign to declare November 23 as International Day to End Impunity highlights the Philippine government's inaction to uphold press freedom and protect journalists, and the failed promise of this Aquino presidency.

Visit CMFR's microsite on the issue in commemoration of the International Day to End Impunity and Third Year of the Ampatuan Massacre on Nov. 23.

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