Conflict & Justice

No justice yet for Philippines' massacre

It has been one year since the Philippines experiences the worst political violence in its history. Fifty eight people were massacred in the southern part of the country and more than half of them were journalists. Reporter Sunshine de Leon tells us that attempts to prosecute those responsible have been dragging.

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The brutality of the killings shocked a nation used to violence against journalists.

On November 23rd, 2009, 58 people traveling in a convoy to register a political candidate were ambushed and massacred. The main suspect was a political rival, Andal Ampatuan Jr. He's the son of a powerful clan leader in the south. And he's accused of ordering his private militia to carry out the killings.

He is one of the 197 people charged in the crime. But only about half are in custody. And the trial itself is dragging on.

Nenen Momay- Castillo is the daughter of one of the victims. She and other relatives take turns flying to Manila to attend the hearings. Until now, they have been held on Wednesdays.

She says for now, she is just listening and watching. �The importance of our presence there was to show the perpetrators that we are interested in this fight.� Her father, Reynaldo Momay, was among the dead, but his body was never found. So he isn't part of the official count of 57 victims. Nenen says it should be 58.

She has been fighting for that number since December 2009 because she can not accept that they can not include her father. �He should be included in the count,� she says.

Even though her father isn't included, Momay-Castillo continues to attend the hearings. But she's frustrated by the pace. �Honestly, the case is running slow, very, very slow. its almost a year now and we have only presented 4 witnesses.�

That's out of a possible 300 witnesses.

Nenan says the fight is really hard because it seems that they are fighting a big wall. She says her enemies have so much money and they can buy anything, even justice. Some feel the trial could take years.

Attorney Gemma Oquendo is a member of the prosecution team and she is hopeful there will be justice in the end, thought it may take some time. �The wheels of justice may be square but its still turning. It is turning- it may be square, may be slow but its turning.�

And James Ross of Human Rights Watch says the fact that there was a a prompt arrest of those accused of ordering the attacks, not just those who carried them out, is a positive sign. Ross says there's a culture of impunity here. �The fact that the people responsible for this killing genuinely believed, obviously believed that they could kill over 50 people and not have anything happen to them is astonishing but really reflects the view that these ruling families and politicians often have in the Philippines that they could commit murder and get away with it.�

But Ross is concerned that many of the conditions that allowed this to happen haven't changed, despite government promises. He says, �Our concern is the broader issue, that just getting justice in this one case isn't sufficient to address either the problems in Maguindanao and the use of private armies there and the far bigger problem of private armies existing throughout the Philippines.�

The Ampatuan clan has reportedly tried to bribe family members into silence. Some witnesses have been killed.

Nenen is worried about what might happen to her and others pursuing the case. She says, �personally [I] have a different life now. I cannot go to the places where I used to go.� She is also worried that if the case continues to drag on, and the public loses interest, no one will be held accountable for the massacre.

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