By Corina Oliquino
US-based media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) listed the Philippines on its 2019 Global Impunity Index released earlier this month, reporting the country among the worst five countries with the worst impunity nearly every year since the Index was first released in 2008.
“The country’s fifth-worst ranking is due in part to the deadly ambush of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on November 23, 2009,” it said, noting the trial of over 100 suspects linked to the massacre will conclude this year with still no verdict as of August 31.
In 2015, Ampatuan clan patriarch and former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., the mastermind behind the attack according to prosecutors, died in detention following a massive heart attack.
In a report by ABS-CBN News, the massacre involved over 100 armed men stopping and opening fire at a convoy of journalists, lawyers and supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for governor 10 years ago.
At least 80 suspects remain at large while court record shows six cases have been dismissed, two suspects became state witnesses while five died among the 117 arrested and 104 still on trial.
The Philippines (with 41 unsolved killings) joins Somalia (with 25 unsolved killings), Syria (22 unsolved killings), Iraq (22 unsolved killings), South Sudan (5 unsolved killings), Afghanistan (11 unsolved killings), Mexico (30 unsolved killings), Pakistan (16 unsolved killings), Brazil (15 unsolved killings), Bangladesh (7 unsolved killings), Russia (6 unsolved killings), Nigeria (5 unsolved killings) and India (17 unsolved killings).
“The 13 countries that make up the list of the world’s worst impunity offenders represent a mix of conflict-ridden regions and more stable countries where criminal groups, politicians, government officials and other powerful actors resort to violence to silence critical and investigative reporting,” CPJ said, noting “unchecked corruption, ineffective institutions and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations are all factors behind impunity.”
In another report by ABS-CBN News, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on November 23 slammed the country’s “slow’ judicial process.
Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes asked the Supreme Court for a 30-day extension of the deadline set for this month, citing “the voluminous records of these cases which have now reached 238 volumes,” including transcripts and the prosecution’s evidence.
In a statement, spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia says the CHR “denounces the long -standing impunity surrounding the Maguindanao Massacre.”
“The Maguindanao massacre is a resounding evidence of how the State fails to safeguard the right to life, the right to freedom of expression and the right to information of its people,” she said.
“Ten years without punishment for any of the perpetrators clearly indicates the failure of our justice system to deliver and function effectively,” she added, with the CHR noting the “slow judicial process aggravates further the suffering of the victims’ families.”
“Whatever the decision on this case will be, it will become a living testament of how our nation defines democracy and how it values human rights,” it said.
Moreover, Basilan Representative Mujiv Hataman III in a statement urged the court to “finally put an end to this dark chapter in our history.”
“Although I doubt it can take away the pain of what happened but they can, at least have closure with the conviction of those responsible for the gruesome crime,” Hataman added.