The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) remains deeply worried about the risks of continuing political interference in the trials of those accused of involvement in the Maguindanao massacre in the southern Philippines last November, even as the Philippines Government has reversed its contentious decision to drop charges against two key suspects.
Yesterday, Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra was quoted as saying that he is “now convinced insofar as Zaldy Ampatuan and Akmad Ampatuan are concerned, that there is probable cause to pursue the case against them,” according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate.
His comments reverse his decision on April 21 to drop murder charges against the pair for their alleged roles in the murder of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, in Maguindanao on November 23.
“The IFJ is outraged that Alberto Agra sought to meddle in the charges against these two key suspects, and demands that authorities in the Philippines ensure that charges relating to the pair – and all other 194 suspects – be fairly tested in court without any political interference,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
Zaldy is Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and a brother of Andal Ampatuan Jr, the main suspect in the massacre. Akmad is Vice-Governor of Maguindanao and Andal’s cousin.
Those killed were travelling in convoy to lodge candidacy papers for Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu to run for Maguindanao governor against the Ampatuans.
According to a report from the NUJP, state prosecutors noted publicly that Agra’s move to drop the charges could not have been based on consideration of the extensive evidence presented against the two accused, and suggested political interference in the judicial process.
In the tense lead-up to national and presidential elections on May 10, the effort to drop the charges angered local and international journalists’ organisations, which noted the Ampatuan family’s support for the Government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and its involvement in voting irregularities that benefited Arroyo in 2004 and 2007.
“As the election draws near, we further call on all candidates and future power-holders to make a public pledge to take full responsibility for ensuring justice is done, and seen to be done, and that they end the culture of impunity for the killings of journalists in the Philippines,” Park said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide
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