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Philippines court grants bail to key Ampatuan clan member

This statement was originally published on ifj.org on 12 January 2015.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in strongly criticizing the decision by the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 to grant bail to one of the accused in the case of the murder of 58 people, including 32 journalists in November 2009.

The Ampatuan Massacre is the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.

Sajid Islam Ampatuan is one of 197 accused in the Ampatuan Massacre that took place in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009. Islam is the son of clan patriarch and co-accused Andal Ampatuan Snr. The NUJP said that Sajid Islam is a key member of the clan and was present at the meetings during which the massacre was planned. At the time of the massacre, Sajid Islam was acting Maguidanao governor.

The NUJP further criticized the bail posted for Sajid Islam's release given the vast resources of the Ampatuan clan. The bail of 200,000 pesos (USD 4452) for each count of murder, 58, was "peanuts" to the clan. This action would inevitably see him set free and deal a blow to the case.

NUJP chairperson Rowena Paraan said: "What is utterly dismaying is Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes' observation that the prosecution panel failed to establish strong enough evidence to ensure Sajid Islam's continued detention over the course of the trial. This can only mean that those tasked and, more importantly, pledged to ensure justice for the victims of the worst incident of electoral violence in the country's recent history and the single deadliest attack on the press ever, have betrayed their mandate."

"Is it any wonder why, more than five years after this most heinous of crimes, justice remains a distant hope for the families of those who died?"

The NUJP demands Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who has staked her current title on the successful prosecution of the killers, "to make good on her word".

The IFJ Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said: "The justice department and judiciary continue to say they are working for justice, yet their actions in this matter appear to tell another story."

The IFJ calls on justice secretary Leila de Lima to revoke the bail of Sajid Islam and ensure that bail will not be granted to the key accused.

An IFJ-NUJP mission to the Philippines on the 5th anniversary of the massacre in November last year highlighted serious flaws in the handling of the case and on the issue of journalist killings since. The IFJ is due to release its recommendations in a report on January 23.

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