Getting away with murder, Manila style

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 August, 2012, 10:56am

It beggars belief: three years after the Maguindanao massacre the ensuing trial shows little sign of progress. Then again, this is the Philippines - the converse of China, where a trial's swiftness may raise concerns about its fairness. The savagery of the November 23, 2009, attack was breathtaking - 58 people killed, including women, for daring to support the political rival of a town's mayor. Life is cheap on Mindanao, where this atrocity occurred, but the scale of the massacre was incomprehensible, even by the standards of the island's insurgency.

Judging from our weekend report, the trial of the accused - members of the Ampatuan clan - is proceeding fitfully at "a maximum security facility" in Manila, 800km north of Maguindanao. Whatever security measures have been taken, they have not stopped witnesses from being killed, according to the interview with Myrna Reblando, the widow of a journalist murdered in the slaughter.

There was a time when the Ampatuans' alliance with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was seen as impeding the trial's progress, but she has since been deposed and arrested. If her presidency was the obstacle, her departure should have cleared the way for her successor to apply the weight of due process, but there seems to have been little acceleration since President Benigno Aquino took over in June 2010.

If anything, the trial seems to be stalling, bogged down by forces similar to those which made heavy going of the investigation into the assassiantion of Aquino's father. At least in terms of its brazenness, Ninoy Aquino's murder in August 1983 - caught on TV camera - was similar to Maguindanao. The crime scene (Manila's international airport) may have been named after the victim, but we are still unsure whether all the culprits have been brought to justice.

Such a legacy should inspire Benigno Aquino to commit all the forces at his disposal to ensuring justice prevails in Maguindanao. This would demonstrate that things have changed since his father's murder and an awareness that it is not only the Ampatuans who are on trial but his country's reputation, too.

Alex Lo is on leave