“Confiscate Ampatuan property; give proceeds of sales to families of massacre victims”

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/25 April) – A Paris-based media group that fights for press freedom and denounces violations of human rights has urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to “order the confiscation of some of the Ampatuan clan’s property so that the proceeds from its sale could be distributed among the affected families.”

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) in a letter to Arroyo dated April 23 that it would be “wise for your government” to order the confiscation as “the families of the victims (are) struggling to cope with very difficult situations.”

Five months after the massacre, the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to complete its lifestyle investigation on the Ampatuans.
The letter, signed by Jean-François Julliard, Secretary-General, noted that the Ampatuan Massacre of November 23, 2009 “sent shockwaves far beyond your country’s borders” and reminded her that she condemned “this supreme act of inhumanity that is a blight on our nation.”

“You also promised that ‘the perpetrators [would] not escape justice.’ But we now fear that the demands of justice that you and the members of your government stressed at the time are being eroded by very dangerous political considerations,” the RWB said.
RWB was referring to the ruling of Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to clear suspended ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and his brother in law Akmad Ampatuan, of the multiple murder charges for alleged lack of probable cause.

“The date of the massacre, 23 November 2009, will always be a black day for press freedom all over the world. Never in the history of journalism have the media pay such a heavy price in loss of life in a single day,” the letter read.
RWB also said it was worried “by the fact that two relatives of prosecution witnesses were recently murdered. Violence of this kind is liable to intimidate those who have agreed to testify against the perpetrators and instigators of the massacre.”
“The families of victims have rightly asked for the trial to be postponed until after the coming elections in order to avoid any political exploitation of this very grave case. We regard this as a legitimate request. Former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, whose son, Andal Ampatuan Jr, is on trial, was one of your political supporters in the last general elections,” RWB said.
It added that based on information they have received, the leading suspect’s brothers allegedly “continue to finance their private militia, receiving their lieutenants and giving orders from their places of detention. They have also hired a score of lawyers tasked with using a range of procedural devices to obtain a light sentence for Andal Ampatuan Jr.”
It urged the Arroyo administration to “reinforce the resources available to the judicial system and to guarantee its independence so that the trial will be exemplary and so that the massacre’s instigators as well as its perpetrators can be punished.”
“If you do not do this, Reporters Without Borders will again refer this matter to the United Nations, in particular, to the UN Human Rights Council,” the letter added.
The culture of violence, RWB said, “cannot explain everything.”

“ It is the culture of impunity, for which the government highest officials are partly responsible, that has allowed the killers and those who gave them their orders to execute so many journalists in all parts of the country. (MindaNews)