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Victims’ kin gather at site of Ampatuan massacre as 10th anniversary nears

Families of the victims of the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, as well as supporters and journalists, gather for a mass at the site where 58 people were killed and left in a mass grave in what is considered the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history.

MANILA, Philippines — Family members of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre again visited the site of the killing at Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan, Maguindanao to call for justice for the deceased as they have each year since the worst-case of election-related violence in Philippine history.

With raised fists, the children left behind by the departed media workers—32 of the 58 killed were journalists—sang "Hustisya" at the very site where their parents were murdered.

Some of the children were as young as ten years old. A play was also staged to commemorate the killing, followed by a mass.

Those present at the site donned shirts that said: "It's been 10 years. Do not let the story die with them."

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, members of whom were also at the commemoration, has been holding a candle lighting protest each month leading up to the 10th anniversary of the massacre.

To date, the massacre is recognized as the the country’s worst case of election-related violence as well as the world’s single deadliest attack against media workers, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And of the over 200 reported gunmen involved in the slaughter, more than 90 suspects remain unaccounted for today after almost ten years.

Verdict deferred

The most recent development for the decade-long case came when the Supreme Court on November 8 extended the deadline for a ruling on the case to December 20.

Citing “voluminous records," Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes asked for an extension of one month to rule on the murder case against Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and over 100 others.

Having earlier received death threats, Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu invited journalists to cover the filing of his certificate of candidacy. Before the media convoy reached their destination, however, they were stopped by some 200 armed men, kidnapped and later murdered.

Lab results also showed that some of the women killed were raped before they were murdered.

Mangudadatu was set to challenge Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., member of one of the region's most prominent political clans, for the governorship of Maguindanao. According to a text message from Mangudadatu's wife, the men that blocked the convoy's way were identified as the men of Ampatuan Jr.

She claimed that he himself slapped her.

Ampatuan Jr. is the primary accused in the pending case today.

Culture of impunity still exists

UP Journalism professor Danilo Arao said in October that a clear culture of impunity permeates in the country, evidenced by what he said is the irony of human rights reporters falling victim to this culture themselves.

“Inaasahan natin na ang mga peryodista ay talagang maiipit,” Arao said. "Kung hindi man maipit sa gitna, sila ay magiging biktima rin ng harassment and intimidation."

(We're expecting that journalists will really be put in peril. If they aren't caught in the middle, they themselves can be victims of harassment and intimidation, too.)

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also reported in April that the Philippines was 134th of 180 countries on its World Press Freedom Index. In 2018, the Philippines ranked 133rd, six spots lower than the its earlier ranking of 127th a year before.

The Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network in May also found that over 100 cases of attacks against journalists have been recorded since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office. The CPJ has also called the Philippines the second most dangerous country for media practitioners, behind Iraq.

RELATED:Ampatuan massacre remembered as 10th anniversary nears

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.ca

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