Philippines digs in for long massacre trial (News Feature)
By John Grafilo Nov 19, 2010, 6:50 GMT
Manila - Editha Tiamzon told her three children to get used to some nights without her at home as she seeks justice for their father who was among 57 people killed in the worst politically motivated massacre in the Philippines.
Tiamzon, 49, said her 10-year-old daughter cries every time she has to stay overnight in a safe house near a police camp in Manila, where the trial is held every Wednesday.
'I have not missed a single hearing since the trial started early this year and I do not intend to miss any,' she told the German Press Agency dpa. 'I owe it to my husband.'
Tiamzon's husband, Daniel, was among 32 journalists and media workers killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province, 960 kilometres south of Manila.
The other victims were members of a political family out to challenge the stranglehold of a notorious warlord's clan in the province.
Every Wednesday, Tiamzon stares at principal suspect Andal Ampatuan Junior, seated at the other end of the courtroom along with other suspects, and prays for the day the nightmare ends.
'I hope that God will take pity on us and help us end the reign of terror of the Ampatuans,' she said.
Based on the testimony of at least four witnesses, Ampatuan Junior led nearly 200 members of the clan's private army in diverting the convoy of his political rival to a desolate hill where they were killed.
Witnesses also said other members of the Ampatuan clan, including its patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Senior, plotted the massacre.
Advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the massacre was only the latest of killings attributed to the Ampatuans, who amassed wealth and power under the nine-year rule of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
HRW said the Ampatuans, whose private army includes militiamen, police officers and soldiers, were also responsible for the deaths of dozens more people in Maguindanao and nearby areas.
Nena Santos, a lawyer for more than a dozen massacre victims, said although Ampatuan Senior and three of his sons were in jail, the family remains a formidable force.
Santos said security forces have not yet arrested more than 100 heavily armed suspects believed to be roaming the mountains of Maguindanao under the command of Ampatuan relatives.
'They still have enough money and resources. They can still do a lot of things,' she said.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it has found out that some of the victims' families were allegedly approached with bribes and witnesses to the killings were being intimidated.
Luisa Lubang, wife of slain reporter Ian Subang, told the CPJ she refused an offer of 500,000 pesos (11,600 dollars) from people claiming to represent the Ampatuans in exchange for dropping her support for the prosecution.
The house of Ampatuan town Vice Mayor Rasul Sangki, who testified that Ampatuan Junior shot the first victim, came under mortar attack from unknown assailants a day after his testimony.
CPJ expressed hope that the new government of President Benigno Aquino III would take steps to ensure justice for the victims.
It urged judicial officials to review court rules that have allegedly been exploited by the defence lawyers to delay the proceedings.
Lead defence lawyer Sigfrid Fortun said they were just as eager to ensure that justice is served, but he stressed that due process and the rights of the accused must be respected.
Fortun said that in the one year that has passed since the massacre, there was no trial for six months due to the request of the prosecution team.
Richard Fadullon, lead prosecutor, said the prosecution was strictly adhering to the rules of the court in order to avoid losing due to technicalities.
'It's better to be slow and cautious and make sure that everything is done according to the rules of the court,' he said. 'We cannot hasten the case at the expense of due process.'
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who oversees the government prosecution team, expressed confidence that the Maguindanao massacre would be resolved within Aquino's six-year term.
De Lima said she has limited the case loads of the Ampatuan prosecutors to ensure they give enough time and attention to the trial.
She has also ordered the prosecution team to be more focused and aggressive during the trial.
'They should always object and block dilatory moves on the part of the defence,' she said. 'We have so much to lose in the eyes of the world if we don't get a conviction.'
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