Philippines massacre trial: a test for justice and accountability
The Philippines massacre trial resumed Wednesday in Manila. The trial of a mafia clan accused of killing 57 people last November was seen as the worst act of political violence there in decades.
The trial of a powerful political warlords accused of the premeditated killing of 57 people last November, the Philippines’ worst act of political violence in decades, resumed Wednesday amid concerns over the trial’s sluggish pace and the quality of witness protection.Skip to next paragraph
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The trial is shaping up as a test of Manila's resolve to deliver justice and accountability to one of its poorest and most lawless regions, which is the home to a large portion of the country's muslim minority.
Over 100 suspects in the case are still at large, including members of the Ampatuan family, which allegedly led the massacre of a rival clan. A key witness was shot dead in June, one of five such pre-trial killings. Other witnesses have since been put under protection for the trial, which is taking place at a high-security prison compound in Manila.
The victims included 32 reporters who had joined the convoy of the rival clan to cover the filing of election papers for an election on Mindanao. One of the victims called her husband last November, before the abductors confiscated cellphones, and told him that armed militiamen had stopped the vehicles. Prosecutors say that the gunmen then led them to a field where pits had been dug by backhoes, shot the victims, and dumped their bodies and cars in the mass graves. (Editor’s note: this paragraph was edited to clarify time references.)
The massacre sparked national outrage and highlighted the might of political warlords in Mindanao, a traditionally Muslim-dominated island. Former President Gloria Arroyo-Macapagal relied on the Ampatuan family to deliver bloc votes for her scandal-tainted reelection in 2004. Opponents accused Ms. Arroyo, who stepped down in June, of returning the favor by allowing the clan to build up a fearsome militia and grow rich from government grants.
Her successor, President Benigno Aquino, has promised to see that justice is done in the massacre case. But observers say that this may be difficult, not least because of the scale of the case and the burden on an overstretched judiciary. Nearly 200 people are accused of involvement and hundreds of potential witnesses have been identified. Only two have testified.
Defense lawyers have filed a thicket of motions ahead of the trial of the first 19 suspects, including the alleged ringleader Andal Ampatuan Jr. The trial began Sept. 8 and is scheduled for weekly hearings. An veteran senator recently claimed that at the current pace the process could last 200 years.