Philippines

Philippines: Families of 58 Killed in Massacre Protest Suspect’s Furlough

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By Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales

Families of 58 people killed in the nation’s worst political massacre have slammed a court decision allowing one of the principal suspects to temporarily leave jail to attend his daughter’s wedding.

Of the victims killed in 2009, at least 32 were journalists and media workers, in what is believed to be single biggest one-day massacre of press people around the world. Almost 100 people have been jailed and charged with murder, but none have been convicted.

The journalists tagged along with a convoy of a local Muslim political clan challenging the Ampataun family for control of the southern province of Maguindanao.

The group was ambushed by members of the Ampatuan family and their henchmen who tried to hide the bodies in a mass grave on a remote hill. The violence exposed bitter rivalries among Muslim clans jostling for control of the south, a mineral-rich area that has for decades been locked in insurgency.

Among those jailed is Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the men who allegedly engineered the massacre.

On Sunday, he was granted a furlough to attend his daughter’s wedding.

“I don’t really understand as to why we have this kind of justice system,” Reynafe Momay-Castillo, a daughter of photojournalist Reynaldo Momay who was one of the victims, said from Canada where she works as a nurse.

She demanded an explanation from Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of suburban Quezon City, north of Manila, about why Ampatuan was allowed out.

“Do you think we no longer follow the case after almost a decade? Do you think we forgot all about the killing of our loved ones? Personally, I may not be in the Philippines to attend the hearings but I’m still following through,” she said.

“I still seek and will continue to seek justice for my father. You owe us an explanation,” she added.

Zaldy Ampatuan, with his father, the late Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his brother Andal Ampatuan Jr., are among the main suspects in the massacre, which has come to be known locally as the Maguindanao Massacre of 2009.

A copy of the court order obtained by BenarNews said the wedding was a “significant milestone to be cherished and remembered.”

“It is a momentous family occasion which must be witnessed and attended by the couple’s loved-ones, especially the accused who will personally bring his eldest daughter to the altar,” according to the document signed by Reyes-Solis and dated Aug. 17.

Chief Inspector Xavier Solda, spokesman of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, confirmed that Ampatuan was allowed out of jail for three hours on Tuesday to attend the ceremony at a five-star hotel in Manila.

On Wednesday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) protested what it perceived a special privilege granted to Ampatuan. Its statement noted the crime for which he is being tried for was of “such heinous nature” that it forced then-President Gloria Arroyo to move against the clan.

“Almost nine years after the rampage that claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, no one has yet been convicted. Yet a principal accused, Sajid Ampatuan, was granted bail,” the NUJP said.

“That and now this, we feel, gives us and the victims' families more than enough cause to worry about whether we can truly expect justice for this most grievous of crimes,” it said.

Press monitors around the world had called the massacre “the single deadliest event for journalists” in recent history.

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