Philippine Ex-Politicians Found Guilty In 2009 Massacre

(Bloomberg) -- Two senior members of one of southern Philippines’ most powerful political clans have been found guilty of the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists, 10 years after 58 people, including 32 members of the media, were shot to death and buried in a shallow grave.

Nearly 30 suspects, including the two main accused -- former mayor Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr and his brother, Zaldy -- were sentenced by a local court to up to 40 years in prison for having “acted as principals” in the crime, according to a copy of the decision posted on the Supreme Court website. Fifteen others were sentenced to up to 10 years in jail for being accessories to the crime.

More than 50 defendants were acquitted, as their alleged involvement in the crime were not proven beyond reasonable doubt, according to the decision. The court also ordered that damages be paid to the victims’ families.

The Ampatuan brothers pleaded not guilty to the murder charges when the trial began in 2010, with their defense focusing on the supposed lack of evidence directly linking them to the massacre.

Prosecutors say the massacre, allegedly carried out by the Ampatuan’s private army on a convoy that included opposition politician Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife and sisters, was connected to provincial elections.

Philippine Ex-Politicians Found Guilty In 2009 Massacre

One of the worst incidents of election violence in the Philippines’ history, the Nov. 23 2009 massacre followed decades of escalating clan violence, entrenched corruption and political kickbacks. Key members of the Ampatuan family, including Andal Ampatuan Jr and his father, the Maguindanao Governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr, who has since died, were charged and removed from their posts.

Clan Politics

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said the ruling should be respected, and that the government will work for the protection of journalists. “While the promulgation of judgment in the case is done, the narrative on the protection of media workers is far from over.”

The guilty verdict will have a “dampening effect” on clan feuds in southern Philippines, said Francisco Lara, sociology lecturer at the University of the Philippines who specializes in political economy of conflict and has written about the Maguindanao massacre. “This is going to be a critical juncture in our history,” he said.

It will also have an impact on the dynamics between the state and clans, Lara said. “The clans will see that there’s a possibility of getting justice from the center, so it weakens them. They will realize that justice can be rendered not just by clans, but by the state.”

Still, 80 suspects are still at large, and at least 50 of those were close security detail for Andal Ampatuan Jr, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. Since the trial started in 2010, victims’ families and media groups have reported harassment and threats, forcing the family of one of the journalist victims to seek asylum abroad.

“This verdict should prompt the country’s political leaders to finally act to end state support for “private armies” and militias that promotes the political warlordism that gave rise to the Ampatuans,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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