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MANILA, Philippines -- Media organizations, press freedom and human rights advocates, artists and victims’ relatives will hold an overnight vigil from Sunday to Monday to commemorate the thousandth day since the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre.
The vigil, which starts 4 p.m. Sunday until 9 a.m. Monday, will be held at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani in Quezon City.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which is spearheading the activity, said the continued murders of journalists after the massacre and the continued failure to enact a Freedom of Information law “have underscored the dire state of press freedom in the country.”
The massacre claimed 58 lives, including 32 media workers, most of them in a convoy on its way to file the candidacy for governor of Maguindanao of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
The slaughter has been officially recognized as the deadliest single attack on the press in history. It has also been described as the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history.
However, despite the enormity of the crime, close to three years after, the prosecution of the 196 accused, led by key members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, has barely cleared the starting gate. Only 76 suspects have been indicted, including just two of the detained clan members -- patriarch Andal Amaptuan Sr. and his son, Andal Jr., who is said to have led the gunmen who stopped the convoy and murdered its passengers.
A hundred suspects remain at large, including a number of members of the clan and their large and well-armed private army.
The prosecution and observers of the trial have noted the delaying tactics employed by the defense.
In the meantime, witnesses, their families, and the families of the victims continue to be targets of attacks, threats, harassment and bribe offers. At least three key witnesses have been murdered, so have a number of witnesses’ relatives.
Among the groups joining the vigil are the Philippine Press Institute, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and major broadcast networks.
The vigil will also be marked by exhibits and performances by artists’ groups, cultural workers, poets, actors, journalists and activists who will share songs and poems that tackle injustice and the continuing impunity under President Benigno Aquino III’s watch.
Relatives of the massacre victims will speak on how they cope with the continued absence of justice.
Also on Sunday, other families of the massacre victims will hold a press conference at Forest Lake Memorial Park in General Santos City, where a number of the media victims are buried, after a mass and motorcade around the city. They will also exhibit art works made by kin of the victims of media killings.
Public service radio ads produced by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines as part of their campaign against impunity. According to the media group, the impunity with which journalists and other victims of extrajudicial killings are murdered is the result of government's failure to stop the bloodshed and prosecute those responsible, especially the masterminds.