Maguindanao massacre verdicts only 'partial justice', rights group says

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2019 11:21 PM | Updated as of Dec 20 2019 12:53 AM

Members of the Ampatuan family sit with other suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre at the promulgation of the case, inside a prison facility in Taguig City on December 19, 2019. Supreme Court of the Philippines - Public Information Office (SC-PIO)/Handout via Reuters

MANILA—An international human rights group on Thursday described the verdicts on the Maguindanao massacre case as partial justice, citing the acquittal of 55 suspects while 80 others remain at large.

"So this was justice, if only partially, and may not fully comfort victims’ relatives," Human Rights Watch Philippines researcher Carlos Conde said.

However, he noted that the guilty verdict on members of the powerful Ampatuan family as a "rare triumph," in a country notorious for impunity.

"But in today’s Philippines, this verdict is a victory nonetheless - a rare triumph of accountability in a country notorious for impunity and where politicians and warlords can get away with anything, including murder," Conde said.

Five members of the powerful Ampatuan family were found guilty of murder a decade after they masterminded the killings of 58 people, considered as the country's worst case of political violence.

Among those murdered were 32 journalists who joined the convoy to cover the filing of candidacy of a rival politician. It remained as the single deadliest incident for journalists in the world.

The principal suspects, brothers Zaldy and Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr., were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison without parole.

The quest for justice, Conde said, still remains after the police have failed to arrest the 80 other suspects. 

"Both victims’ families and witnesses remain in danger as long as these suspects are free," he said.

Conde also expressed concerns that another such case could happen in the future if the national government would continue to coddle with ruling families.

"So I fear these convictions will not upend my country’s dysfunctional political culture. But today, at least, was a day for justice," he said.