Friday, December 4, 2009

Investigation Into Philippine Massacre of Journalists Continues

Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, takes a look this morning at the recent massacre of at least 30 journalists in the Philippines. He reports that:

Four groups in the Philippines released what appears to be the most authoritative account on the murder of 57 people on November 23 in Ampatuan, in Maguindanao province, in the Philippines’ southernmost main island, Mindanao. The report puts the death toll for journalists at 30, with a few others classified as media workers—drivers and other support staff. Some bodies are still unidentified. The nine-person investigative team spent November 25 to 30 in the nearest large city, General Santos City, and traveled to the site of the massacre in Ampatuan and to nearby towns interviewing relatives of those killed.

The organizations -- Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, MindaNews, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism—felt they had to act quickly because the Philippines has a very poor record of carrying out investigations and bringing prosecutions in the deaths of journalists. CPJ ranks the country the sixth worst in terms of impunity for those who kill journalists. They were right to move quickly. When the investigative team went to Ampatuan they were accompanied by a forensics expert. They were horrified by the destruction of evidence by the police and army teams who were using excavators to search for and retrieve the victims’ bodies. The scene of the crime—actually there were a few killing areas—was ruined in a way that will make it very difficult if not impossible to reconstruct what happened.

The BBC reported today that 19 people being investigated by the National Bureau of Investigation for their involvement in the massacre have been placed on a security watch list. That means they can’t leave the country, but they haven’t been arrested. The BBC said 12 of the 19 are relatives of Andal Ampatuan Jr.—the only person in custody. Ampatuan is charged with multiple counts of murder, which he denies. He has applied for release on bail. He belongs to the powerful Ampatuan political clan. He is the son of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and brother of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.

Tomorrow, representatives from about 10 international media support groups will start assembling in General Santos City, to support their Philippines colleagues. The idea is to carry their investigation forward and start assessing the needs of the victims’ families. But it is also to show solidarity with Philippine reporters in the entire nation. With the facts gathered, they will then focus on high-level advocacy and giving as much support as possible to the local media community, culminating in Global Day of Action on December 9, preceding International Human Rights Day.

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