November 23, 2009 a very significant date to all cotabatenos and a very controversial date to anyone who knows about the massacre. A day that brought the city into darkness.The time where majority of the people were into a great fear.The day where many innocent people were executed due to the willingness of others to win the position.
Even for a country long hardened to election violence, the massacre of at least 57 defenseless civilians on the main southern island of Mindanao, many of them relatives and supporters of a local politician and a large group of journalists, sets a new low. This troubled corner of the Philippines usually makes headlines for its long-running Muslim separatist rebellion. But the killings starkly exposed a nationwide malaise: the fierce competition for regional power among the country’s small élite of a few hundred families and clans that control an inordinate amount of the national wealth — and the desperate lengths some will go to protect their hold on power.
The most talked about incident that happened 4 years ago has not been resolved until now. The brutal killing of 57 persons that were just about to file candidacy for Cotabato’s former governor Esmael ‘toto’ mangudadatu. On that day, the wife of Esmael Mangudadatu, a local politician, was to submit a Certificate of Candidacy on his behalf. He was to run for provincial governor. Local journalists joined them in a convoy going to the office of the Commission on Election in the municipality of Shariff Aguak. The journalists were interested as it was the first time that there is a man who will take risks to have a rivalry with an ampatuan in terms of running for a position.. It was a challenge to the Ampatuans, the powerful ruling political clan. The Ampatuans were supporting Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of the then incumbent governor, Andal Sr., to succeed him as governor. But before Esmael’s wife, her party and the journalists could reach the Comelec office, the local policemen, soldiers and paramilitary forces blocked their way at the highway. They were allegedly given orders by Andal Ampatuan Sr., then incumbent governor and also the patriarch of the Ampatuans; and his son, Andal Jr., to kill the group.
All the victims were taken to a hilltop where they were executed. Their bodies were buried in a mass grave together with their flattened vehicles. Their purpose was not to know where the killed people were. The magnitude of the Maguindanao massacre stands as evidence of an enormous challenge to the country’s system of justice. In this case, there are 196 defendants, each of them charged with 57 counts of murder for the death of 57 people, all charges being heard at the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Metro Manila. The body of one journalist, which is required in prosecuting a murder case, could not be found. Over 500 others named only as “John Does” in the criminal charges have not yet been identified. Of the 196 defendants, 93 have been arrested; however, three of them have accused the police officers of arresting them in the place of real accused. Of the 93 defendants in detention, 29 of them have not been arraigned in open court yet.
Before the trial could begin, it took the National Prosecution Service, the prosecution arm of the Department of Justice, over two months to file the 57 counts of murder in court against the defendants. Here, although the prosecution body did comply with its legal obligation to complete the preliminary investigations in at least 40 days for ordinary cases and 90 days for cases involving public officials as required by the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 112 on Preliminary Investigation, to be able to proceed with the trial to ensure that an “effective remedy” is achieved has been problematic in reality. The failure of the Philippine National Police to arrest the other 103 defendants, who are still at large two years after the massacre, has further delayed the trial of the case. Although all of the accused are charged for murder in a single incident, in determining criminal liability each must be arraigned, tried and examined individually in court during the trial.
The accused could also question the merit of the case by submitting petitions and motions in court either to have their names excluded from the murder charges or having the entire case dismissed on question of merit. However, not all motions and petitions filed by defendants, particularly those of powerful and influential political figures are in good faith. In this case, some defendants who invoked a remedial right filed their petitions to either exclude their names from the murder charge or dismiss case allegedly to deliberately delay the trial. To date, there are still 29 defendants, including Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, who have not been arraigned. Zaldy is the son of Andal Sr. Under the Speedy Trial Act of 1998, section 6, in trial of criminal cases “in no case shall the entire trial period exceed one hundred eighty (180) days from the first day of trial”; however, four of the seven “exclusions” applicable in this case, as stipulated in section 10 of the same law, have rendered the law inoperative.
These exclusions are delays due to trials with respect to charges against the accused; interlocutory appeals; hearings on pretrial motions from orders of inhibition, or proceedings relating to change of venue of cases; finding of the existence of a valid prejudicial question; and absence or unavailability of the accused or an essential witness. Thus, the delay in this trial has so far been justifiable in the domestic law. I argue that these open-ended and broad exclusions have denied both the accused and the complainants their constitutional rights to speedy trial. The absence, if not lack of, adequate legal provisions that would ensure that motions and petitions that the defendants filed are examined thoroughly to prevent any attempt to deliberately frustrate the course of justice has exposed the court system as being open to manipulation.
In this case, the defendants filed numerous petitions, motions and appeals that were legally justifiable in the ¡§exclusions¡¨ clause of the Speedy Trial Act. Even though according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer “the court (had) practically holds three hearings a week — motions are heard on Mondays in Quezon City while the actual trial is conducted at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, on Wednesdays and Thursdays” (23 November 2011) for over a year now, there is no sign that the trial of the massacre case could reach its conclusion anytime soon. Therefore, the remark by one of the private lawyers, Harry Roque that the trial could take “55,000 years” if we take as a basis that “it takes five years to try a single case in the Philippines” (according to one study) is not an overstatement. This could in fact be the length of the trial if the 196 defendants would be tried each for charges of 57 counts of murder. Effective remedy: violations in international law
I argue that the Speedy Trial Act, in particular its section 10, does not conform to international norms and standards because its exclusions institutionalize delays in trial of cases and thereby deny an “effective remedy”. The domestic law and the rules of procedures that protect these rights exist, but they do not conform to international law. The domestic law rather has diluted substantive rights to be mere procedural rights. The UN Human Rights Committee has already held that the Philippines was in two cases in violation of its obligation under the Covenant for failing to ensure the “effective remedies” at the domestic level. In its views on Evangeline Hernandez v the Philippines (Communication No. 1559/2007, views adopted on 26 July 2010, UN Doc. CCPR/C/99/D/1559/2007), the Committee held it was in violation ¡§of article 6, as well as a violation of article 2, paragraph 3″ because domestic remedies had been “unreasonably prolonged”.
The Committee reminded that the “State party may not avoid its responsibilities under the Covenant with the argument that the domestic courts are dealing with the matter, when the remedies relied upon by the State party have been unreasonably prolonged.” Evangeline is the mother of Benjaline Hernandez, a human rights defender murdered by the military and paramilitary forces in Arakan, North Cotabato in April 2002. Evangeline filed the individual communication even without fully exhausting domestic remedies, arguing that investigations, prosecution and trial in her daughter’s murder “have been ineffective and unreasonably prolonged.” The Committee has also observed that for “over eight years later, at the time of examination of this communication, it would appear that criminal proceedings initiated against the accused have not yet been finalized.” In another case, Lenido Lumanog and Augusto Santos v the Philippines (Communication No. 1466/2006, views adopted in 20 March 2008, UN Doc. CCPR/C/92/D/1466/2006), the Committee also held the state party violated article 14, paragraph 3 (c) of the Covenant because it failed in concluding the petition for review into the death sentences of the complainants for eight years.
Here, the state party was reminded of its legal obligation with article 2, paragraph 3 (a), of the Covenant, to ensure “an effective remedy, including the prompt review of their appeal before the Court of Appeals and compensation for the undue delay”. The complainants, Lenido Lumanog and Augusto Santos, are two of five torture victims, collectively known as the “Abadilla Five”. The five were illegally arrested and detained, tortured to confess and after over 14 years of trial, were convicted for the assassination of Rolando Abadilla, a police colonel, in June 1996. They were convicted based on the testimony of one witness, Freddie Alejo. Alejo’s credibility has been questioned. In these two cases, the Committee found the Philippines has violated the rights of the complainants because the domestic remedies were ineffective and unduly delayed; however, legally these violations to international law had found justification under the country’s domestic law, notably the Speedy Trial Act. In the domestic legal framework, delay is justifiable as part of the domestic criminal legal process, even though in these two cases it constituted a breach of the ICCPR.
When domestic remedies are “ineffective and unduly delayed”, the aggrieved parties can file individual complaints with the Committee, since the Philippines has ratified the Optional Protocol of the ICCPR. Even when cases are within domestic procedural jurisdiction, the state could not invoke this as non-compliance to “exhaustion of domestic remedies.” To my knowledge, the Committee’s views and opinions have so far not been implemented at the domestic level. While the country’s Constitution adopts the “generally accepted principles of international law”, without an established mechanism to fully implement the Committee’s views, even if a state is held to have committed the violations of the Covenant and international law it signed, the notion of “effective remedy” will not exist in reality.
The Maguindanao massacre is proof that the existing domestic mechanism, despite its recognition of the rights, is unable to comply with its international obligations because of the chronic defects of its own criminal justice system. The recognition of these rights in the 1987 Constitution, the codification of statutory laws and in criminal procedures and adoption of jurisprudence from foreign countries will not have substantial benefits to ensure protection of the right to an “effective remedy”. A well-developed domestic mechanism is a precondition in order to implement these rights. A backhoe driver has described in chilling detail how he used the excavator to bury the 58 victims of the Philippines’ worst political massacre, according to a video aired Tuesday. The man said he dug a big hole near where the victims were shot by the Ampatuan clan in November 2009, then pushed the bodies as well as their cars down the pit. “I am Bong Andal, a trusted employee of the Ampatuans…they ordered me to bury the people they had massacred,” said the man in the clip aired by Manila-based GMA network.
The clan allegedly ordered the massacre to stop a political rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against one of its members for governor of Maguindanao, a poor farming province in the south. The Ampatuan patriarch, two sons and several family members are in custody and on trial for the murder of 58 victims, including 32 journalists who were covering the political contest. The backhoe driver was arrested last November, while more than 90 other suspects remain at large. GMA said Andal had signed a deposition that was given to state prosecutors. It said it later had an exclusive interview with him, in which he repeated the allegations made in the written deposition. The network said part of his quotes were from the deposition and part from the interview. “I used the backhoe to push the vehicles into the hole first. Then I flattened them with its metal arm,” the station quoted him as saying. “Some of the vehicles had dead people inside, so I just closed my eyes out of fright and got on with it.” Andal also said he used the excavator’s arm to drag the dead bodies into the hole, the station said.
Andal alleged in the video clip that the clan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Senior, ordered him to take the excavator to the place where the 58 people were shot dead, and to make sure it had enough fuel. “The Ampatuans warned me and my parents not to get myself arrested. They said if I get caught they would kill my parents, my siblings and my children.” The driver is being held by the national government’s witness protection program, along with other witnesses, amid fears they could face retribution for testifying against the clan, GMA said. At least three witnesses have been killed since 2010, including a former Ampatuan family employee whose dismembered remains were found stuffed into a sack in 2012. Andal wants to become a state witness, GMA said GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Lest we forget, we must remind ourselves that 4 years ago, 58 people were killed in one of the most reprehensible massacres in the long line of political murders in the country.
On a scorching mid-day on Nov 23, 2009, Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr and some 192 relatives, policemen, militiamen, and bodyguards stopped a convoy of vehicles that was on its way to the provincial capitol of Maguindanao in Shariff Aguak and diverted it to a secluded and remote village in Masalay, Ampatuan town. There, witnesses said Andal Jr and his minions peppered the wailing and begging victims with bullets. Some 4 hours later, the world was jolted and revolted by the gruesome massacre. Thirty-two of those who were mercilessly gunned down were journalists and media workers. Standing accused and being prosecuted for the barbaric crime are members of the most fearsome and influential political warlords in Mindanao, along with their henchmen and avid supporters. Six members of the Ampatuan clan have since been arrested and are now detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.
While most suspects have been arrested and detained, many are still at large. At least 8 of those still in the lam bore the surnames of the principal suspects – Ampatuan. And while 96 or so of the suspects are now detained, all but one have yet to face trial, the process bogged down by delaying tactics by the defense. In that one case that has gone on trial, the lawyers of the accused have yet to present their case after the prosecution rested on November 6 – or 4 years to the month since the massacre. At least 3 witnesses have been killed since 2010, including a former Ampatuan family employee whose dismembered remains were found stuffed into a sack in 2012. Despite this, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said that President Benigno Aquino III wants suspects convicted before his term ends in 2016.
The final road
On Thursday, November 21, families of the media workers and journalists who perished in the massacre will retrace the final road traveled by their loved ones and carry one message: When will justice ever be achieved? Indeed, it is not enough to see the masterminds and their minions confined in their detention cells. Paramount is retribution for the victims – for the massacre committed by the Ampatuans. The families are demanding justice.
The world is insisting on the day of reckoning. Many are convinced that without it, the culture of impunity will forever be with us.
2009 will go down in history as the darkest year yet for the Philippine media with the killings of 57 people, including 32 journalists in southern Philippines on 23 November – an event that has come to be known as the “Maguindanao massacre. A Philippine regional traial court today ordered the arrest of 189 suspects linked to the gory November 23, 2009 Maguindanao killings of 57 civilians, which shook the media worldwide. It was as if some senators read an oracle on the fate of the civilian massacre case in Maguindanao. Though governments all over the world deplored the killings, the case has lost its momentum. The celebrated Maguindanao massacre case took another twist when two members of the powerful Ampatuan clan tagged as two of the main suspects in the November 23, 2009, killings were cleared by the Department of Justice because the “existence of a conspiracy was not proven”
Anger and relatives’ cries for justice reverberated on Thursday at the resumption of the celebrated Maguindanao massacre trial as a medical legal officer testified that one of the victims may have been raped before she was shot. Maguindanao massacre had been the most talked about topic since the day it happened. It affected not just the city of cotabato but also other places as soon as it was aired on television. The people in cotabato, specially those families who had lost their loved ones because of the brutal killing had been traumatized. It brought fear to us because it was the most brutal happening that happened. I know that in cotabato there are a lot of incidents happening. Like bomb threats,kidnapping,killing and the war against the terrorists but this topic was the most fearful.
To compare, authorities arrested 12 suspects at the time of the massacre’s second anniversary in 2011.
Two other suspects considered “big fish” who each carried the P300,000 bounty were arrested that year: Tumi Timba Abas and Dukoy Badal.
Then in 2012, eight were also arrested, including two prominent Ampatuan clan members, namely: Datu Anwar Upham “Ulo” Ampatuan and Datu Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan Jr.
But this year, apart from not arresting any prominent Ampatuan clan member, authorities have only arrested one suspect that carries the P300,000 bounty: Talembo “Tammy” Masukat, who was collared on February 16.
The six others arrested this year carried a lower bounty of P250,000 each:
Nasser Guia, arrested on February 8
Maot Bangkulat, April 8;
Kudza Uguia Masukat, April 15;
Edris Nanding Tekay, May 28;
Mama Nomba Habib, July 25; and
Alimudin Sanguyod, October 18.
An eighth suspect, Maguid Amil, was killed by authorities after resisting arrest in Maguindanao on February 8. Amil reportedly hurled a grenade and fired at one of the arresting officers.
As of posting time, the total number of arrested suspects stands at 108.
Of this number, 104 have been arraigned and all pleaded not guilty to the multiple murder charges.
Among those arraigned are the eight prominent Ampatuan clan members, including patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr, a former Maguindanao governor, as well as his three sons, Andal Jr, Rizaldy, and Sajid. Considered the worst single-day election-related violence in Philippine history, the Maguindanao massacre claimed the lives of 58 people, including 32 journalists, who were part of a convoy that was supposed to register then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, an Ampatuan rival in the gubernatorial race for the 2010 automated polls.
They were said to have been stopped at a checkpoint at Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town and gunned down by armed men led by the Ampatuans. Mangudadatu eventually won as governor.
This tragedy will never be forgotten as it was one of the most significant and historic happening that happened in cotabato city.It took us years to moved on to what happened. Mangudadatu stayed strong even though he lost most of his family member. He still continued his filing of candidacy and luckily he won. As he won, it brought happiness to the people as well as the families of the victims because it gave them hope that there will be justice served. But until now there are some petitions and complaints about the case because of the slow movement that causes the family victims to get angry because it is been years and until now there are still improvement in the said case. As the ampatuan denies about the massacre, it is one of the factor why it is still an ongoing case. It gave the supreme court a hard time to resolve it because of their statements. They’ve been creating new stories for their sake to be not in prison but still there were some evidences that are strong but needsa very careful and intelligent study to really know who’s the real suspect to the said crime.
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