Bangkok, December 19, 2019—The Committee to Protect Journalists today welcomed a Philippine court’s decision to hold to account the mastermind, his brother and 26 accomplices of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court found masterminds Andal Ampatuan Jr., his brother Zaldy Ampatuan, and 26 accomplices including senior police officials guilty of murder, according to CPJ’s monitoring of a ABS-CBN broadcast live feed of the verdict and media reports.
The court sentenced Andal, Zaldy and their accomplices to reclusion perpetua, or up to 40 years in prison, without parole, the Philippine Star reported. Their brother, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, was acquitted in the ruling, reports said.
Andal and Zaldy Ampatuan were found guilty of murder in the November 23, 2009 attack on a convoy that included journalists covering an opposition figure running against Ampatuan Sr. for the governorship of Maguindanao, according to reports. Their father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., was arrested in connection with the case and died in prison in 2015.
The court sentenced a further 15 suspects, including several police officials, to between six and 10 years in prison as accessories to the crime, the Philippine Star reported.
The attackers killed 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, the single deadliest event for the press in history, according to CPJ research. Attorneys for Andal and Zaldy Ampatuan told presiding judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes they would appeal the convictions within 15 days, according to CPJ’s monitoring of the verdict.
“CPJ welcomes today’s convictions for the Maguindanao massacre. While we regret it was a decade in coming, we hope that the landmark verdict heralds a genuine break in the cycle of impunity in journalist killings in the Philippines,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Authorities should leverage this hard-fought precedent to pursue and achieve justice in all other unsolved media killings.”
The case took a decade to be tried, with proceedings protracted by over 400 witnesses presented by both sides and various procedural challenges to the trial, according to reports
Several of the families of victims faced threats in their pursuit of justice, according to CPJ reporting. At least three witnesses to the killings were assassinated while the court proceedings were ongoing, according to CPJ research.
An estimated 80 accomplices to the crime are still at large, according to news reports. Those still at large include additional members of the Ampatuan clan, according to a statement by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, a local press group and news reports.