Wednesday, December 18, 2019

HRW urges authorities to arrest Ampatuan massacre suspects still at large"

Philippine authorities should arrest 80 suspects in the gruesome Ampatuan massacre who remain at large, the Human Rights Watch said, stressing that failure to do so would put the victims’ families at risk.

A Quezon City court is expected to hand down verdicts for the 107 defendants in custody charged with the murder of 58 people, including 32 media workers on Thursday. Of the original 197 suspects, 80 have evaded arrest including 14 members of the powerful Ampatuan clan and 50 uniformed personnel.
“The families of Maguindanao [massacre] victims and witnesses will be at risk so long as suspects remain free,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of HRW, said.

He added that authorities need to apprehend the several dozen suspects still at large regardless of the verdict in the case.

Ten years ago, 58 people who were on their way to a local Commission on Elections office to witness the filing of then-gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu were killed in broad daylight and dumped into roadside pits during an attack that was dubbed as the country’s worst political massacre and one of the world’s worst mass killings of journalists. Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. are the primary accused in the case. Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan was allowed to post bail in 2015 and was elected mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town in May.

The Ampatuan massacre case has dragged on for a decade in part because of the sheer number of victims, respondents and witnesses both for the prosecution and the defense.

HRW said the Quezon City Trial Court Branch 221's handling of the trial, along with the Supreme Court’s measure to fast track the proceedings, might serve as a model for much-needed reforms in the judiciary. “It should not take another crime as heinous as the Maguindanao massacre for the Philippines to reform the delivery of justice,” Robertson said.

He added: “But the real reforms demands police who are committed to apprehending all criminal suspects, judges and prosecutors who respect defendants’ rights and uphold the law, and elected officials who demonstrate political will.”