A decade after 58 people were killed in the Philippines’ worst political massacre, none of the alleged masterminds have been convicted yet, leaving families fearful that justice may never come.
Though a verdict is due next month over the bloodshed that drew international outrage, there is no guarantee of a conviction and the painfully slow-moving trial could still be derailed by corruption or even violence.
“We are afraid for the life of the prosecutor or even our judge,” said Mary Grace Morales, whose sister and husband were among 32 journalists killed in the attack, making it one of world’s deadliest on media workers.
In the years since leaders of the Ampatuan political dynasty were accused of masterminding the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre, at least four witnesses have been killed before they could testify and death threats have been common.
Ampatuan family leaders, who ruled the impoverished southern province of Maguindanao, are charged with organizing the mass killing in a bid to quash an election challenge from a rival clan.
“We are just praying that nothing happens in the next month,” Morales said, referring to the verdict that the Supreme Court ordered be delivered by Dec. 20 for some 100 defendants.
The trial has moved at a glacial pace, with allegations of bribery and delay tactics against the dynasty’s lawyers, which previously included Salvador Panelo, now Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman.
However, even routine cases can take years to make it through the Philippine court system, which is notoriously overburdened, underfunded and vulnerable to pressure from the powerful.
Many people with a vested interest in halting the case remain free. Of the nearly 200 defendants charged, about 80 are still at large, including 14 Ampatuans.
“These are dangerous people. They have been involved in many killings,” said Nena Santos, a lawyer who represents 38 of the victims’ families, referring to the suspects.
Santos said she believes the prosecution would secure convictions of at least the main players, but added “of course the final judegment depends on the judge.”
This case is particularly high-profile as it was carried out in broad daylight on a convoy carrying an Ampatuan family rival’s wife, relatives, lawyers and the journalists, who were killed in a hail of gunfire.
Word spread quickly and the victims’ bodies were found in roadside pits hastily dug with a government-owned excavator.
The killing drew international outrage and exposed how then-Philippine president Gloria Arroyo had tolerated the Ampatuans’ heavily armed militia as a buffer against Muslim rebels.
Experts warn that despite the outrage and politicians’ promises of reform, many underlying factors in the slaughter have not been rooted out in the Philippines.
The killings would not have been possible without a heavily armed militia, yet the nation’s south is still awash in guns after generations of insurgency and weak government control.
Deadly violence between rivals and supporters also remains a fact in the country’s elections, where political power is a path to wealth in a nation where millions live in deep poverty.
Political power is frequently concentrated in the hands of family dynasties, which get protection from national politicians in need of local votes.
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece — a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life. Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, said that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as
‘GRAVE CONCERN’: A critic of the government died immediately following his complaints of torture at the hands of security forces, a human rights group said Students on Friday clashed with police in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, as anger mounted at the death of a writer and government critic in a high-security jail. At least 18 police and an unknown number of protesters were injured in the clashes, authorities and witnesses said, amid international demands for an independent investigation into the death of Mushtaq Ahmed. An Agence France-Presse correspondent witnessed police using batons and firing tear gas at students who staged a torchlight march calling for “justice” near the University of Dhaka. At least six students who allegedly attacked security forces with torches were detained, police said. More protests were planned
China, under growing global pressure over its treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, is mounting an unprecedented and aggressive campaign to push back, including explicit attacks on women who have made claims of abuse. As allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang mount, with a growing number of Western lawmakers accusing China of genocide, Beijing is focusing on discrediting the female Uighur witnesses behind reports of abuse. Chinese officials have named women, disclosed medical data and information on their fertility, and accused some of having affairs and one of having a sexually transmitted disease. Officials said that the information was evidence of bad character,
The plane laden with vaccines had just rolled to a stop at Santiago’s airport in late January and Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was beaming. “Today is a day of joy, emotion and hope,” he said. The source of that hope: China — a country that Chile and dozens of other nations are depending on to help rescue them from the COVID-19 pandemic. China’s vaccine diplomacy campaign has been a surprising success: It has pledged about 500 million doses of its vaccine to more than 45 countries, according to a country-by-country tally by The Associated Press (AP). With just four of China’s many