Worsening attacks on press freedom and people’s rights continue 11 years after Ampatuan massacre

Eleven years ago, 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers, were brutally killed in a bloody massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. For more than a decade, the families of the victims as well as journalists in the country have been relentless and tireless in their pursuit of justice — and on December 19 last year, Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan were finally convicted for masterminding this heinous massacre.

While this is a long-deserved and necessary victory, the struggle for justice continues, especially when many of the other actors in this massacre — particularly State forces — have been acquitted or are yet to be held accountable for taking part in orchestrating this gruesome crime. Last year’s verdict cleared 56 people, and 40 more were cleared in a Department of Justice resolution signed August 28 last year, but was only received by the lawyer of the victims’ families last month. The Ampatuans have appealed the conviction, and other suspects remain at large.

The climate of impunity that made this massacre possible has visibly intensified under the Duterte administration with its brazen and heightened attacks on press freedom and people’s rights, particularly with the continuing killings, harassment, and red-tagging of journalists, the charges against Maria Ressa of Rappler, and the shutdown of ABS-CBN. Even worse, the Duterte administration’s spin doctors have deceptively attempted to use last year’s historic verdict to project an image abroad that domestic mechanisms of accountability are working and have resolved the case — to assuage and allay calls for an independent and impartial international investigative mechanism into the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines. 

Far from being a resolved case, the families of the victims have urged the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s Observatory of Killed Journalists to reclassify the case as “ongoing/unresolved.” 

Karapatan and Hustisya join the families of the victims, journalists and media workers, press freedom advocates, and other human rights defenders in asserting that Ampatuan massacre case will remain unresolved unless all perpetrators of this bloody and gruesome crime are convicted, and unless all attacks on journalists, activists, and human rights defenders are stopped.

Amid the worsening human rights crisis under Duterte, it is more than urgent that the struggle for justice and accountability continues.