Brutal, barbaric, heinous. No amount of words can aptly describe the massacre of 58 people, 32 of them journalists and media workers, on November 23, 2009 near Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.This carnage defied comprehension. Now known to the world as the Maguindanao massacre perpetrated by the powerful political clan, the Ampatuans, the mass killing has been recorded as the worst political massacre in history and the world’s single biggest killing of journalists that gave the Philippines a despicable title – the most dangerous place in the globe for journalists.
This month, the nation – and the world – marked the 3rd year of the massacre with various media groups holding protest rallies to denounce the slow course of justice on the case. Media workers and media groups, the Philippines Today included, marched to the foot of Mendiola Bridge at the entry to Malacanang, carrying caskets of the victims and burned the effigies of those responsible for the mass killings and those who have allowed the continued delays in the arrest of more than half of the over 170 suspects and the trial of those who have been arrested.
Spearheaded by militant students and campus journalists, other protest rallies, some dedicated to the victims, were also held in Maguindanao, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and other areas as well as in schools. As they dramatized their worries about attempts to further delay the case, muddle the evidences and killing of witnesses, many people around the world are asking: When will justice be served for those who had been mercilessly murdered?
How come despite the media men’s massacre, the killings of journalists go on with impunity under the watch of President Benigno S. Aquino III? What has the government been doing about the case? Why has not the President issued any statement about the massacre on its third anniversary? Oddly, Mr. Aquino instead touted his administration’s purported gains in the campaign against journalist killings.
The data about the case is staggering. Of the 196 accused, only eight of the principal suspects have been detained and only two have been arraigned, Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Andal Ampatuan Jr. The country still awaits the arraignment of Zaldy Ampatuan who has ironically filed a petition for bail. Only 98 suspects have been detained, leaving the rest of the accused still dangerous and at large.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has blamed the delays in the prosecution of the case on the delaying tactics of the Ampatuans. To solve the issue, Sen. Joker Arroyo, a human rights lawyer, proposed that the prosecution concentrate first on the trial of the masterminds of the mass murder, the Ampatuans. Also, the court should hold hearings every day to be able to come out with a conviction sooner.
Indeed, something must be done, and this must be done now. Our country is under the watchful eye of the world that wants to see justice for the victims. No less than the Reporters without Borders, the Committee on the Protection of Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists have expressed concern about the slow pace the case has been going. It is very sad, that three years after the massacre, the families of the victims are still crying for justice.