Filipino journalists stage a demonstration in Manila to demand justice for members of the media who were killed in a massacre in 2009. (Photo by Vincent Go)
A Catholic bishop in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao has condemned the delay in the investigation into the massacre of 54 people, including 32 journalists, in Maguindanao province in 2009.
"The wheels of justice in our country are at a snail's pace and that contributes more pain to the victims," said Bishop Martin Jumoad of Ozamis.
"Their souls continue to cry for justice," he said, adding that it is "lamentable" that seven years after the incident, "justice is still elusive to the victims."
Bishop Jumoad urged Filipinos, especially the families of the victims, to continue working for justice. "The wheel of justice is very slow. Let's continue our advocacy for justice and peace," he said in an interview.
"Pray until something happens. Let's not be discouraged. Have faith and courage. God will never abandon us," said the prelate.
On Nov. 23, 2009, some 200 armed men executed 58 people — 20 relatives and supporters of a local politician, 32 journalists, and six others.
The massacre, the worst in recent Philippines history, resulted in charges against senior members of a political clan that ruled through a "private army" comprising 2,000 to 5,000 armed men.
Several members of the clan are still awaiting trial for the massacre. But of the 197 identified suspects, only 99 were arrested.
Various motions filed by the suspects' lawyers have mired the case. Several charges have been dropped against some of the accused, while some suspects remain at large.
Several witnesses have reported threats on their lives or were offered large amounts of money to change their testimony. At least four witnesses and three relatives of massacre victims have been killed.
Seven years after the slaying, not a single suspect has been convicted.
Dabet Panelo, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said many of the families of the victims have been reduced to poverty, barely able to get by day to day and totally neglected by the state.
"In the seven years since, we have lost more colleagues and many more are threatened and harassed," she said.
Panelo said the "culture of impunity" continues to worsen because of "government apathy or, worse, outright hostility toward an independent media."