MANILA, 22Nov2013 – To mark the fourth year since the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre, Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte has filed a resolution asking government to look into what he called the “correlation between corruption and media killings” and to “act with dispatch to strengthen press freedom and freedom of expression.”
House Resolution No. 520, filed Wednesday (November 20), directs “concerned executive agencies to speed up the prosecution and conviction of guilty parties in the Ampatuan massacre, to help the victims’ families and to conduct an investigation on the correlation between corruption and media killings; and urge the members of both houses of Congress to act with dispatch to strengthen press freedom and freedom of expression.”
The resolution said the snail-paced progress of the case, the murder of witnesses, the pressure on victims’ families to settle and the continued failure to arrest all of the suspects have helped perpetuate the culture of impunity with which media killings and other human rights violations are committed, citing the 18 media killings under the current administration.
At the same time, it said the massacre highlighted the risks faced by community journalists, “who live through and can even be victims of the events they cover, as seen during super typhoon ‘Yolanda,’ during which four practitioners died and at least six more remain missing.”
Amid all these, the resolution said, “proposed legislation that would strengthen press freedom and freedom of expression continue to languish in the legislative mill while dangerous laws were railroaded through.”
The resolution directs the Department of Justice to speed up the prosecution and conviction of those responsible for the Ampatuan massacre and security agencies to arrest all the remaining suspects and ensure the security of witnesses and the victims’ families.
Just as significantly, it directs the DOJ and law enforcement agencies “to produce a list of media killings, detailing the status of each case and the efforts needed to prosecute its perpetrators, especially the masterminds, and to make said list public with a commitment to do all that is necessary to end impunity.”
It also directs the DOJ, Department of Interior and Local Government and all law enforcement agencies “to execute a definitive investigation into the direct relation between corrupt governance and media killings, and design a plan of action to prevent future occurrences” and urges Congress “to act with dispatch on all pending legislation to strengthen press freedom and freedom of expression andwork to repeal or amend all laws that limit or stifle these freedoms.”
Nearly four years ago, on Nov. 23, 2009, a convoy of seven vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives of then Buluan, Maguindanao Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu travelled to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak town to file his Certificate of Candidacy for governorship. At the same time, two vehicles that are not part of the convoy happened to pass the highway.
At around 10:00 a.m., forces allegedly led by Andal Ampatuan Jr waylaid the ill-fated convoy, along with the two vehicles, to be taken to and later killed at the hilly portion of Sitio Malating in Ampatuan town.
Four years after the atrocious killing—known as the single most murderous attack against journalists in recent years—only 104 of the 195 accused have been read charges; while 88 suspects, many of them members of the Ampatuan clan members and their militiamen, remain at large. Three crucial witnesses have been killed.
None of the accused, including Andal Jr., has been convicted.