PH gov’t urged to hunt down Ampatuan massacre suspects still at large

Robie de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) group urged the Philippine government to hunt down and arrest the remaining suspects in the Ampatuan massacre case who are still at large.

In a statement issued ahead of the case promulgation on Thursday, the HRW said the suspects in the gruesome attack who still roam free puts the victims’ families and wit at grave risk.

“The families of Maguindanao victims and witnesses will be at risk so long as suspects remain free,” HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.

Around 197 people were accused in the massacre. Of this number, 101 were put on trial while 80 others are yet to be arrested.

Among the suspects who remain at large are 14 members of the Ampatuan clan, and 50 soldiers and policemen who were accused of planning and carrying out the massacre on November 23, 2009, in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan are the primary accused in the case.

The alleged private army of the Ampatuans purportedly blocked and ambushed the convoy of then gubernatorial bet Esmael Mangudadatu – a political rival of the Ampatuans – when they were on their way to file his candidacy for the 2010 elections in a local Commission on Elections office.

The incident left 58 people dead including 32 media personnel, some civilians and members of the Mangudadatu family.

The massacre is considered as the worst election-related violence and attack on press freedom in the Philippines.

A special court was created by the Supreme Court to handle the case, enabling the presiding judge, Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court branch 221, to hold frequent hearings.

The case has dragged on for a decade in part because of the sheer number of victims, respondents and witnesses presented both for the prosecution and defense.

With the expected release of the verdict on the case, the HRW said the government should continue to pursue all the accused.

“Regardless of the verdicts in the case, Philippine authorities need to apprehend the several dozen suspects still at large,” Robertson said.

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