World | Philippines

Coffin protest seeks speedy justice for massacre victims

Delayed trials of Maguindanao killings accused upsets civil society groups

  • By Barbara Mae Dacanay, Bureau Chief
  • Published: 14:34 November 23, 2012
  • Gulf News

Manila: More than a hundred coffins were carried from suburban Quezon City to Manila by rights, media and lawyer groups in protest over delayed trials in the 2009 election-related massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists.

The coffins, made of paper mache, represented other victims of political killings in the Philippines since the start of President Benigno Aquino’s term in 2010. The 58 people were massacred and buried in shallow mass graves by relatives and members of private armies of Andal Ampatuan Sr, former governor of Maguindanao, in his hometown in the south on November 23, 2009, rights lawyer Harry Roque said.

Members of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) also led protesters in the lighting of 58 candles at the commemorative marker for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, which was erected at Manila’s National Press Club, in time for the event’s third year.

Protesters went to Mendiola, near Malacanang, the presidential palace, where they burned a towering 11-foot effigy named ‘Impunity Master’. “The effigy symbolises Filipinos’ dream to put an end to the culture of impunity that is exacerbated by the powerful and the mighty,” said Crisanto de Leon, head of Artists Collective, a group of visual artists that was behind the effigy’s creation.

“The effigy serves as a reminder to President Benigno Aquino who promised speedy justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre,” de Leon said.

Prior to the burning of the effigy, protesters urged the Supreme Court to ensure a speedy trial of the Maguindanao massacre accused.

Earlier, students and politicians prayed and signed a covenant for HOPE, an acronym for honest, orderly, and peaceful elections in 2013, after a bishop celebrated a mass at San Agustin Catholic Church in Manila’s Intramuros.

“We want to ensure that the 2013 elections are not marred by what happened in Maguindanao in 2009,” Bishop Deogracias Iniguez said.

Women relatives, lawyers, rights groups, and journalists formed a convoy as the Mangudadatu family filed for the certificate of candidacy of Esmael Mangudadatu, then a vice-mayor, who wanted to run as governor of Maguindanao.

At the time, the post was held by Andal Ampatuan Sr, who wanted his son, Andal Jr. to run for the post.

Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and sister in the massacre, was elected governor of Maguindanao in 2010.

Protesters bemoaned the presence of 19 Ampatuans as candidates in the 2013 mid-term elections.

“We are waging an information campaign to alert voters not to vote for any Ampatuan in the 2013 polls,” said an activist from the south, who joined the protest rally.

To fast-track the snail-paced trial, lawyer Roque, representative of the families of the slain journalists, asked the Supreme Court to assign another tribunal to hear the numerous petitions, motions, and countermotions filed by prosecution and defence lawyers; Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to allow 30 major witnesses to testify soon; and the National Police Commission to rule with finality on the administrative cases filed against policemen who were accused in the massacre.

Ninety-one of the 194 suspects in the case remain at large. Of the 103 arrested suspects, only 81 have been arraigned. Former governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) is one of them. Only 120 witnesses, out of 520 prosecution and defense witnesses, have been presented in court.

Several witnesses have been killed in the three years since the crime.

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