Philippines: Stronger witness protection urged on anniversary of infamous massacre
The killings of Maguindanao massacre witnesses and their families must be stopped by the Philippines authorities, Amnesty International said today on the third anniversary of the infamous mass murder of journalists.Fifty-seven people, including 32 journalists, were killed by an armed group in the southern province of Maguindanao in 2009, while travelling in an election convoy through the territory of the powerful Ampatuan clan. Since then, at least six witnesses, their family members and prospective state witnesses have been killed.“Although the cases are barely inching their way through the court system, the effects of the Maguindanao massacre are something survivors and families are living every day,” said Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott “Some are also living with the very real threat of death, while struggling for justice.”Esmail Amil Enog, who testified in court that he had been a driver for gunmen implicated in the massacre, was found chainsawed into pieces after disappearing in May this year.Alijol Ampatuan, who according to prosecutors was willing to identify perpetrators, was shot at close range in February. The same month prospective witness Hernanie Decipulo died in police custody. His death was reported as a suicide.Philippine police reported that three relatives of witnesses were killed this year. Myrna Reblando, one of the more vocal widows of the murdered journalists, was forced to leave the country in 2011 for her own safety after receiving credible threats.Another prospective state witness Suwaib Upham was killed in 2010.“There has to be a public, transparent and independent investigation of these killings, and increased protection for witnesses and their families” said Truscott. Leaders of the Ampatuan clan, many of them elected government officials, have been charged in connection with the 2009 massacre but no prosecutions have been concluded. Of 197 suspects, 94 have not been arrested. Administrative proceedings against 62 police officers who were allegedly involved in the massacre have made little progress in the Department of Interior and Local Government.“Most of the court proceedings have been bail hearings. We are three years down the line from this bloodbath, and the substance of the murder cases has barely been touched,” said Truscott. “This reluctance to effectively bring the Maguindanao killers to justice, may well embolden the perpetrators of ruthless political violence.”The Maguindanao massacre has become an emblem of impunity for unlawful killings in the Philippines. According to the Philippine police, at least 60 private armed groups have not been dismantled, presenting serious risks of further political violence in the 2013 elections.