CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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Still no resolution on Maguindanao Massacre

MANILA (UCAN): It is now eight years since the Maguindanao Massacre took place on a lonely road in Ampatuan on 23 November 2009, which saw 58 people murdered and buried in mass graves.
 
At least 34 of them were journalists covering a journey being made by the vice mayor, Esmael Mangudadatu, to file his certificate for candidacy as governor of the province at the office of the Commission on Elections.
 
Manguadadatu believed that surrounded by the bevy of journalists he would be safe on the journey, as he had received threatening messages telling him he would be chopped to pieces once he had filed the certificate.
 
The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York has described the massacre as the single deadliest event for journalists in history.
 
Families of the victims and Philippine media groups once again decried the long wait for justice at various activities organised to mark the massacre on the day of its anniversary.
 
“After eight years, the families of the victims are still waiting patiently for justice to be served,” Maria Reynafe Castillo, the daughter of one of the slain journalists, said.
 
“It is frustrating, but I know and I believe in my heart that if justice is not achieved here on earth, I’m sure justice will be served by God who is just and faithful,” she reflected.
 
None of the 197 people accused of the murders has been convicted and so far, only 115 have ever been arrested.
 
As of November 21, a local court had heard testimonies from 273 witnesses.
 
In a meeting with families of the victims on November 23, the president, Rodrigo Duterte, vowed to resolve the case within his term, which is scheduled to end in 2022.
 
A presidential spokesperson, Harry Roque, said the trial may be completed within a year.
 
Roque, a former lawyer for the families of the victims of the massacre, said he would take steps to fast-track a resolution in the multiple cases.
 
In a statement issued on November 22 by the Supreme Court, the justices say the cases against the accused would be submitted for verdict once the defence panel finishes its presentation of evidence.
 
A lawyer, Nena Santos, the counsel for the family of one of the victims, said she is confident the court will be able to hand down a verdict sometime next year.
 
The families had earlier sought the help of Duterte “because the case is still pending and proceeding very slowly.”
 
On the day itself, some 200 armed men executed the 58 people—20 relatives or supporters of the local candidate for governor, Mangudadatu, 34 journalists and four others.
 
The massacre is listed as the worst in recent Philippine history and resulted in charges against senior members of the Ampatuan political clan that had ruled the local area with the use of a private army comprised of 2,000 to 5,000 armed men.
 
Various motions filed by their lawyers mired legal action against the suspects. Several charges have been dropped against some of the accused, while other suspects remain at large.
 
Many of the witnesses have reported threats to their lives or having been offered large amounts of money to change their testimony. At least four witnesses and three relatives of the massacre victims have been killed or mysteriously disappeared.

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