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IFEX calls on the Aquino administration to take action to end impunity in the Ampatuan Massacre case

On 5 December 2014, IFEX sent an urgent official statement to the Philippine government sharing the results of the Tweet for Justice campaign and highlighting the continued need for legislative advancements to better address and reduce impunity in the country. Read the statement below.

IFEX hosted a digital wall campaign page from 17 - 24 November gathering tweets of support from around the world
IFEX hosted a digital wall campaign page from 17 - 24 November gathering tweets of support from around the world

IFEX

President Benigno S. Aquino III
Republic of the Philippines

CC:

Secretary Leila de Lima, Department of Justice
Regional Director Rene Burdeos, Department of Interior and Local Government - Region X (Northern Mindanao)
Senate President, Senator Franklin Drilon, Senate of the Philippines, 16th Congress
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, Supreme Court

IFEX calls on the Aquino administration to take action to end impunity in the Ampatuan Massacre case

IFEX is a global network of 95 organisations defending and promoting the right to freedom of expression and information. We believe that when violations of this right occur and those responsible are not brought to justice, the impact is profound. The resulting climate of impunity encourages the likelihood of similar crimes, and contributes to a dangerous environment that stifles the free flow of information and ideas on which any healthy democracy relies.

The problem of impunity in cases of violence against the media has received global attention recently. The inaugural UN International day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists took place on 2 November 2014. Also in November, UNESCO's Director General released the biennial Report on this issue, which catalogues the killings of journalist around the world and any progress in their cases. In only 6% of the cases condemned by the Director General have the guilty been brought to justice.

The Philippines remains home to what may be the most egregious example of impunity for an attack on the media anywhere in the world – the 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, murdered on 23 November 2009 in Maguindanao. As you are already well aware, no instigators or perpetrators of the attack – widely known as the Ampatuan, or Maguindanao Massacre – have yet been convicted.

Responding to this issue at a public gathering at the massacre site this 23 November, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima noted that the sheer size of the trial – more than 80 of the 197 accused aggressors remain at large, and 300 individuals were set to testify – has led to slow proceedings. Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno of the Supreme Court has announced the development of a set of new guidelines to advance legal processes, and expressed her support in a speech to participants at the Journalism Asia Forum (JAF) entitled The Culture of Impunity and the Counter-Culture of Hope . “Like you, impunity is an issue that burdens me -- it weighs heavily on me officially, as Chief Justice, and for a very long time has been a source of heartache for me personally.” The forum was convened by IFEX members the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) with the Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) on the anniversary of the massacre.

The Presidential Office has also publicly commented on the lack of progress in the trial, and challenged the Department of Justice to convict at least one suspect by the end of President Benigno Aquino's term in 2016.

The recognition by high-ranking officials of the need to expedite the trial is welcome; IFEX has been profoundly disturbed by the lack of progress.

Last week, in collaboration with IFEX members in the Philippines and Asia-Pacific region, and in conjunction with our annual campaign to end impunity, we sent out a global call to participate in a digital action to “Tweet for Justice” in this case. Individuals sent messages of solidarity with the families of the victims, which appeared on an interactive digital wall projected at candlelight vigils held in the Philippines and around the world.

There was a high level of participation from individuals in the United States, where President Obama spoke out earlier this month on the importance of journalist protection, describing a free press as essential to a healthy democracy and calling for “accountability for those who have committed crimes against journalists.”

This is the fifth anniversary of the massacre that silenced so many voices. The world's attention is on the Philippines now, and on this emblematic case of impunity.

On behalf of the IFEX network, we encourage you to redouble your efforts to end impunity in the case of the Ampatuan Massacre. Ensure the safety of all involved in the case, including witnesses and prosecutors, and end arbitrary delays and postponements.

You can demonstrate your government's commitment to the right to free expression by taking strong actions that create a safer environment for journalists, and by ensuring that justice prevails when prevention fails. It will send a powerful message to any who would commit such acts in future: they will not get away with it.

Thank you for your attention. We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Annie Game
IFEX Executive Director

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