All Saints’ Day marks start of countdown to 4th anniversary of Ampatuan Massacre

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/1 November)—Media groups in the country are set to launch later Friday, All Saints’ Day, the “23-day action against impunity,” marking the countdown to the fourth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, where 58 persons, including 32 media workers, were brutally killed on November 23, 2009.

To date, 93 of the accused remain at large, and none of the suspects has been convicted. At least three crucial witnesses have been killed, while others were barred from testifying. Families were allegedly being offered settlement to withdraw from the case, according to the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

Former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr and his sons Andal Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town, and Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, were among the primary suspects. They are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Of the 197 suspects, 105 have been arrested so far, data from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility showed.

The 22-day countdown for the Ampatuan Massacre will be unveiled in a brief program at 6 p.m. Friday at the Boy Scout Rotunda in Tomas Morato, Quezon City, NUJP said in an advisory.

The activity marks the start of 23 days of action, online and offline, for the fourth year commemoration of the massacre and the third International Day to End Impunity on Nov. 23, it added.

Candles will be lighted in memory of the 32 fallen colleagues in the Ampatuan Massacre and other victims of targeted killings against journalists and free expression advocates.

Songs and prayers will be offered during the activity.

NUJP and other groups requested the public to light candles, and to post messages over Facebook and Twitter demanding to put an end to killings and other attacks to press freedom. People are encouraged to use the hashtag #endimpunityinPH.

To recall, the victims were on their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu for governor when their convoy was waylaid in Ampatuan town on Nov.23, 2009.

Around 100 gunmen allegedly headed by Ampatuan Jr. herded them off to a hilly portion of Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman, where they were brutally killed.

Mangudadatu was spared from the massacre after he sent his wife Genalyn and several female family members to file his candidacy. The media workers were part of the convoy to cover the filing.

The Ampatuan Massacre has since placed the Philippines in the list of the most murderous countries for journalists. The grave nature of the incident prompted free expression groups around the world to declare Nov. 23 as the International Day to End Impunity in 2011. (MindaNews)