9 years after Maguindanao massacre, impunity and injustice persist

Today, November 23, marks the 9th anniversary of what is considered to be the worst case of election-related violence and journalist killings in the country. The Maguindanao massacre left 58 civilians dead -- 32 of them journalists, also making it the single deadliest attack against journalists. 21 victims were female, some found with traces of semen and positive for sexual abuse. Of the 58, 15 were motorists who were just driving by and were unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three mass graves were dug for the intended cover-up. About 188 suspects were accused including the primary suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., who is said to have planned the attack. The Ampatuans were known allies of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Many of the perpetrators were private armies of the Ampatuans working in cahoots with government security forces. The creation and utilization of private armies as force multipliers in the government's anti-people campaigns was inked by Gloria Arroyo in 2006 through Executive Order 546.
“From Arroyo to Aquino, and from Aquino to Duterte, the political and economic system that breeds the climate of impunity and aggravates human rights violations continue. Aquino promised to bring justice to the families of the victims but until his term ended, none came to fruition. The Duterte regime, on the other hand, only sought to reward the enablers of these perpetrators, with Arroyo being the current Speaker of the house and even Salvador Panelo, who was then the legal team adviser of the Ampatuans, appointed as the current Presidential Spokesperson. Murderers and experts at evading the law operate Duterte’s government,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

“The brutality and brazenness of the Maguindanao massacre remains a vivid reminder of injustice and impunity in the country. It is a glaring indication that no matter how grave the crime, perpetrators can still escape accountability so long as they are rich and powerful. The Ampatuans, as well as Gloria Arroyo, remain in influential government positions, while the victims and their relatives have continuously clamoured for justice for 9 years. Just as retired general Jovito Palparan Jr. is now rotting in the New Bilibid Prison where he belongs, we remind these criminals that impunity is not forever,” Palabay added.

In the course of bringing justice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, three State witnesses have been shot dead while four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., already died. 20 government security forces were expelled for conspiring with the Ampatuans and 11 were suspended for neglecting their duties to act on the incident. 188 individuals have been identified as perpetrators. Of this number, 82 suspects remain at large.  “The architects of this massacre, however, sit comfortably in government positions or are granted political favors while in air-conditioned cells,” Palabay reiterated, citing the recent decision to allow Zaldy Ampatuan out of jail to attend a wedding.

“It is a trademark of the country’s justice system to create a spectre of accountability, only for it to die down after public attention wanes. Justice in this country can never be achieved without the consistent hounding of the victims and their families. Impunity is the default,” stated Palabay, citing that a Quezon City court is reportedly set to rule on the case after nine long years of continuous delays.

“On the 9th year of the Maguindanao massacre, we continue to demand for justice for the victims and their families. As massacres and other forms of gross rights violations continue under the current regime, we strengthen our demand for accountability. We will not be muted nor cowed, but further propelled by the prevailing injustices in the country to finally change this repressive and fascist system,” Palabay concluded.