Arroyo warned against tolerating Maguindanao massacre case mess


Posted at Apr 24 2010 02:26 PM | Updated as of Apr 24 2010 10:26 PM

MANILA, Philippines - An international media rights' watchdog has threatened to ask a United Nations body to intervene if President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo fails to reverse her newly-appointed justice secretary's resolution absolving 2 members of the Ampatuan clan from the gruesome massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last year.

"Your government's decision to withdraw certain charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan, [relatives] of the leading [Maguindanao massacre] suspect, has dismayed the families of the victims and journalists' organizations... We hope you will give renewed assurances that impunity will not prevail in this case, which unfortunately is what has happened in many other cases of journalists murdered in your country," Jean-François Julliard, secretary-general of the Reporters Without Borders, told President Arroyo in an open letter posted on the group's website.

Julliard said the group "will again refer this matter to the United Nations, in particular, to the UN Human Rights Council" if President Arroyo fails to "reinforce the resources available to the [Philippine] judicial system and to guarantee its independence."

The international media group said that Justice Secretary Alberto Agra's resolution absolving the 2 Ampatuans is a sign that President Arroyo's assurance that "the perpetrators [would] not escape justice" is being eroded by "very dangerous political considerations."

It reminded Mrs. Arroyo that the developments of the massacre labeled as the worst media killing case in the history of journalism, is being watched by the international community.

Thirty journalists were among those killed by at least 200 gunmen allegedly led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town last Nov. 23, 2009.

Also killed were female members of a rival political clan of the Ampatuans, including the wife and 2 sisters of gubernatorial candidate Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu.

"The date of the massacre, 23 November 2009, will always be a black day for press freedom all over the world. Never in the history of journalism have the media pay such a heavy price in loss of life in a single day," Julliard said.

Ampatuans' militia still active

The group also asked Mrs. Arroyo to assure that other suspects in the massacre would be arrested.

Dozens of suspects in the massacre, including armed militias, remained at large despite the government's declaration of martial law and state of emergency in the province.

"We are very worried by the fact that two relatives of prosecution witnesses were recently murdered. Violence of this kind is liable to intimidate those who have agreed to testify against the perpetrators and instigators of the massacre," Julliard said in the letter.

Julliard said that their group has received information that the Ampatuans continue to fund a private militia, which receives orders from their jailed "lieutenants."

The group also urged Mrs. Arroyo to confiscate the properties of the Ampatuans, which are believed to be illegally acquired by the most feared political clan in Maguindanao, and distribute them to compensate the victims of the massacre.

Relatives of the killed journalists have attempted to ask the court handling the massacre case to postpone the hearings until a new president and a new justice secretary are installed after the May elections.

Julliard said that the request is "legitimate" since Mrs. Arroyo had close ties with the Ampatuans before the massacre.