Members of the Photojournalists' Center of the Philippines light candles on Nov. 23 to mark the ninth anniversary of the killings of 32 journalists in the southern Philippines. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
Two senior Philippine officials have vowed justice for 58 people including 32 journalists killed in a massacre nine years ago in the southern region of Mindanao.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra assured that those behind the killings, "at least the principal accused," will soon be convicted by the courts.
"The evidence appears to be very strong, from the [Department of Justice's] point of view," said Guevarra in a media briefing on the anniversary of the massacre on Nov. 23.
Undersecretary Joel Egco of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security said he would resign from his government post if a conviction did not happen soon.
Egco told ucanews.com that he is confident that "justice will soon be achieved for the families of those who died."
President Rodrigo Duterte formed the task force to ensure the swift prosecution of cases of violence and attacks against members of the media.
Of the 58 people who were killed in the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao province, 32 were journalists.
Those killed were part of a convoy accompanying the registration of then town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for the 2010 gubernatorial election.
"We expect a decision hopefully within the first half of 2019," said Guevarra, adding that he would have liked to have the court proceedings speeded up. "But there were certain factors beyond our control. So many accused, so many witnesses too," he said.
Meanwhile, almost 70 individuals wanted for the 2009 massacre remain at large.
At least 198 people were accused of involvement in an attack considered the single deadliest attack on journalists in history.
Nine years later, some of the alleged perpetrators have been dropped from the case, and others have died, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., the alleged mastermind of the crime.
The victims' families have decried the slow pace of justice in the case.
Catherine Nunez, mother of slain television reporter Victor Nunez, said a conviction of "even just one of the accused, we will welcome it. But it must not stop there. We should expect more convictions."
The judge trying the case allowed 42 police suspects to post bail in 2014. One of the policemen had already died in 2012 after jumping from a detention building.
By 2011, two years after the killing, more than 100 suspects were still at large. Two year later, the number went down to 88 suspects. By 2014, only four other suspects had been collared.