JAKARTA, Indonesia – Unhappy with the Philippine government and court's pace in tackling the Maguindanao massacre cases, relatives of slain journalists in the November 2009 incident have sought the intervention of the human rights body of the Association of Southeast Asean Nations (ASEAN).
The journalists’ kin filed a petition before the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to seek the newly formed body’s help in compelling the Philippine government to ensure that justice is served and compensation is paid to the families the journalists left behind.
Lawyer Harry Roque stressed that the petition is "parallel and distinct" from the suits filed before the Quezon City regional trial court.
"We filed our petition against the Philippine government before the AICHR because we believe that the government is responsible for the lives of our loved ones. All the criminals are members of the government of the Philippines and, based on the statement of witnesses, Malacañang gave warnings to the Mangudadatus not to file the case because the Ampatuans are very dangerous," said a crying Noemi Parcon in a press conference in Jakarta on Sunday. Parcon is the wife of slain Koronadal-based journalist Joel Parcon.
Of the total 57 victims in the country's most violent election-related incident, 32 were journalists. They were on their way to cover the filing of the certificate of candidacy of Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu, who sent his wife to the election commission’s office in Shariff Aguak town. The main suspect in the massacre is the son and namesake of incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan. The two clans are former allies.
"My father was murdered because of Philippine government's refusal to provide security even if they knew about the criminal tendencies of the Ampatuan," added Glen Salaysay, son of slain Cotabato City-based journalist Napoleon Salaysay.
The AICHR is a newly founded human rights body meant to respond to the growing international concerns against human rights violations committed inside the ASEAN member countries.
The ASEAN headquarters is located in the Indonesian capital.
The petition filed by the relatives is facing technical issues, however.
The admission of the petition is in question because it was filed in February when the AICHR has yet to issue its rules of procedure. The AICHR is expected to issue its rules this week.
But Roque said they filed the petition precisely to prompt the AICHR to immediately adopt Rules of Procedure. He represents relatives of 13 slain journalists.
Roque's colleague, lawyer Rommel Bagares, said the intervention of the AICHR is crucial in resolving the court cases.
"The main personalities behind the massacre are close allies of the President of the Philippines. We don't see any real action from the government. The current president has political debts to pay. Without the intervention of the AICHR, we don't see any real movement in the cases filed in regular courts," Bagares said in the press conference.
The relatives and their lawyers fear that the Philippine government will drag their feet in seeing the cases through since the main suspects are all officials currently in power. Aside from the Ampatuans who held various elected posts in the province, the other suspects are cops, soldiers, and auxillary forces to the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The families of the slain victims have found support in other civil society groups from the region. They will hold on Monday a protest rally to call for a more inclusive approach in the human rights body.
Groups from Thailand and Indonesia will file similar petitions to call on the AICHR to intervene in human rights violations in their respective countries.
"It really strikes me what trouble we're having in this region. The state sponsored violence that we are suffering is something that must come to an end," said a representative of Thailand-based NGO advocating for human rights in Burma.