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December 19, 2019 - Updated on December 23, 2019

Masterminds of Philippine massacre sentenced to life imprisonment

A ceremony is held to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre at Manila on November 23, 2015. (PHOTO: NOEL CELIS / AFP)
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) hails the exemplary sentences that a Philippine court passed today on those responsible for the murders of 58 people, including 32 journalists, ten years ago in the southern province of Maguindanao, but voices concern about the high number of acquittals and urges the judicial authorities to keep investigating.

A total of 28 defendants were convicted of the November 2009 massacre in the town of Ampatuan, including eight members of the Ampatuan clan, a political dynasty that continues to exercise absolute control over the province.

 

The three brothers regarded as the leading masterminds – Anwar Ampatuan Sr, Andal Ampatuan Jr and Zaldy Ampatuan – were sentenced to life imprisonment. The other sentences ranged from 6 to 40 years in prison. But 55 defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence, while dozens of identified suspects have yet to be brought to trial.

 

“The world’s worst massacre of journalists deserved exemplary sentences and these were commensurate with the crime,” RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said. “But this is just a first step in the long road that the Philippines must travel to combat impunity. The judicial system must keep working because dozens of other suspects have yet to be tried. Everything must also be done to protect the families and witnesses after today’s acquittals.”

 

The massacre occurred when supporters of a political candidate accompanied by journalists were attacked as they travelled in convoy to file his papers to run for governor, a post traditionally controlled by Ampatuan family. Those responsible were quickly identified but, because of judicial obstruction and harassment of witnesses and the families of the victims, the case took years to come to trial.

 

The Philippines is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.