Unesco retains “unresolved” classification of Ampatuan massacre after appeal by groups, individuals

CMFR file photo.

HUMAN RIGHTS advocates hailed the decision of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, promulgated on 19 December 2019 which found the primary accused in the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao of 58 persons, including 32 journalists. Among the 42 suspects convicted were the primary accused members of the Ampatuan clan for their roles in the conspiracy and in the actual killing.

But many of those who have followed the trial through the nine years do not think this as the end of the struggle for justice for the victims and their families.

Along with advocacy groups in the Philippines, the international community has kept track of the long process that led the trial to its conclusion. The massacre in Ampatuan town on 23 November 2009 has been described as the bloodiest attack on journalists and the most violent election-related incident in the world. International NGOs and media watchdog groups marked the trial milestone in December last year, but were fully aware that many issues remain unresolved. Legal groups in the Philippines reviewed the trial and released reports on the areas still awaiting final resolution. For one, the decision itself was clearly open to appeal, a process that the accused parties said they would pursue.

The broad mandate of the UNESCO has kept the safety of journalists and the protection of press freedom among its concerns. The UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalist and its upcoming report on impunity and journalists’ safety classifies cases around the world as “ongoing” or “unresolved.”

The Philippine media network Freedom for Media, Freedom for All (FMFA) noted the  September 2 publication of a press release from the Presidential Task Force for Media Security (PTFoMS) claiming that Unesco has decided to classify the case as  “resolved” in a letter sent to then Philippine Ambassador to France Theresa Lazaro by Moez Chackchouk, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information. The press release also said that the letter also acknowledged the “concrete efforts of the government in bringing justice to the suspects in the 2009 massacre.” Joel Egco, PTFoMS Executive Director, added that “In view of UNESCO’s pronouncement, combined with the two Duterte legacy bills—the Media Workers Welfare Bill and the Freedom of Information Bill that we are pushing for enactment in Congress—the future is bright for the members of the Fourth Estate.”

In response, FMFA drafted a letter to the UNESCO to share with them the many unresolved issues related to the trial. It was sent on September 12 urging the organization to reconsider their classification. The letter was signed by 18 organizations and around 160 individuals. The letter said that while the signatories acknowledged the court decision on the case, they believe that it was “far from” being resolved. According to the letter: (1) appeals have been filed before the Court of Appeals; (2) more than 15 suspects from the Ampatuan clan remains at large; (3) the court released only 57 of the 58 convictions.  (The court included photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, whose body was never found, among the victims but did not count his case during the promulgation.)

See, “Appeal to Unesco regarding the classification of the Ampatuan Massacre case as ‘resolved’

On September 24, Unesco’s Xing Qu, Deputy Director-General for Communication and Information, acknowledged the letter and the issues it raised, and assured FMFA that Unesco has decided to maintain the “ongoing/unresolved” classification of the case.