Journalists offer prayers and candles at the site of the massacre (Photo by Mark Navales)
Families of the victims of a mass killing in 2009 in the southern province of Maguindanao have expressed disappointment after the judge handling the case failed yesterday to issue an order for the arraignment of the principal suspects. "I prayed really hard that the arraignment would go ahead. So I am really disappointed it didn't," said Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and two sisters in what is considered the worst election-related violence in the country’s history. Church leaders have repeatedly criticized the slow pace of the trial, even calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council to monitor the prosecution of suspects. Bishop Felixberto Calang of Iglesia Filipina Independiente
and head of Initiatives for Peace in Mindanao, has also asked the UNHRC to provide protection for witnesses. Victims' families are very anxious about attempts to bribe witnesses and prosecutors, he added. Some 57 journalists, supporters and relatives of the governor were abducted in November 2009 as they were traveling to file nomination papers for elections. Their bodies, some beheaded, were later found nearby. Mangudadatu said he had thought Andal Ampatuan Senior, the main suspect, was going to be arraigned because the suspect himself had urged the court to get on with the proceedings. Juliet Evardo, mother of dead journalist Jolito Evardo, was also dismayed. "We are all depressed right now because we were expecting Andal Senior to be in court," she said, adding her husband was "really angry" at the delay. Evardo and the families of the victims have repeatedly asked the government to allow them to visit the detention cells to see if the suspects are still there. So far only 57 of the 90 arrested suspects have been arraigned. All have pleaded not guilty. Legal experts say the case will probably drag on for decades because of the sheer number of accused, the volume of evidence to be presented and the number of witnesses to appear.