On the eve of the third anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre, only 98 of 196 people implicated have been arrested. Only 81 of the 98 have been arraigned. Among those who have not entered a plea is Zaldy Ampatuan, son of clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. The two, together with former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Jr., are among 57 accused who are seeking bail.
A lawyer-turned-senator famously said it could take 200 years before all the cases filed in connection with the massacre are decided with finality. That will be the worst injustice for the 58 victims and their bereaved families. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City regional trial court is reportedly waiting for rulings of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals on petitions filed by some of the accused before proceeding with the arraignment.
This case is being closely watched by human rights and press freedom organizations around the world. The last thing the nation should want is to see it turned into a showcase of the weaknesses of the Philippine criminal justice system. Those weaknesses have been blamed for the impunity that has led to the murders of many other journalists and militant activists since the restoration of democracy in 1986.
The massacre made the country one of the most dangerous and “murderous” in the world for journalists. Failure to solve media murders has also made the Philippines rank high in the global impunity index, and pulled the country down in the index of press freedom. Journalists around the world now mark Nov. 23 as a “Day of Impunity.”
There are about a hundred other suspected participants in the massacre who are being hunted down. But even without a complete accounting of all the suspects, authorities can work to render justice quickly. Those in charge of the criminal justice system can speed things up a bit by focusing on the prosecution of the principal suspects, starting with Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons. Authorities can also do better in going after the clan’s assets, believed to be ill-gotten. Three years is an interminable time to wait for an arraignment. It’s time to get this case moving.