Philippines: justice deferred in 2011 massacre

Protesters in the Philippines this weekend marked the fifth anniversary of the country's worst political massacre—and the world's worst mass killing of journalists. Nobody has been convicted of the massacre of 32 journalists and 26 others in the town of Ampatuan on the southern island of Mindanao. The victims were shot dead and buried in three pits after being ambushed by some 100 gunmen near the town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao province. Mary-Grace Morales lost both her husband and her sister on Nove. 23, 2009, when they were part of a convoy to cover the filing of candidacy papers for a local politician. "I want the world to know my husband and my sister died in the massacre and there were many people killed," she told the Radio Australia form the vigil held at the massacre site. "It's been five years and there is no justice. I don't know if there is any justice." Philippine journalist Nonoy Espina said half of the local media workers were "wiped out" in one day.

Nine leaders of a clan accused of orchestrating the massacre are among 111 on trial in Manlia. Laders of the Ampatuan family, who ruled the impoverished southern province of Maguindanao, are accused of organizing the killings in a bid to quash an election challenge from a rival clan. Andal Ampatuan Sr. had ruled Maguindanao as governor for about a decade under the patronage of then-president Gloria Arroyo—who funded a private army for the clan to fight Muslim separatist rebels.

Ampatuan's son and namesake is accused of leading the militia in stopping a convoy that was carrying his political foe's wife, relatives, lawyers and the journalists, then gunning down all 58 on a grassy hill. The victims’ bodies were found afterwards in roadside pits that were dug using a government-owned excavator. Father and son are among those on trial. They deny carrying out the murders. The government says 79 suspects, including nine Ampatuans, remain at large. Four witnesses have been killed over the five years. A Maguindanao man who police said had agreed to testify at the trial on Nov. 18 became the latest victim, also gunned down on a roadside. The wives of three detained Ampatuan defendants were elected as town mayors in Maguindanao last year. Sixteen other Ampatuans were elected to local government posts. (Malay Mail, Radio Australia, Nov. 21