Ampatuan verdict ‘important’ for journalists in Philippines, UP professor says

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MANILA — A conviction for Ampatuan clan members who stood trial for the Maguindanao massacre is important because it will be a first to involve alleged masterminds in journalists' killings, a member of the academe said Thursday.

Thirty-two journalists were among 58 people who were killed and buried in a hilltop grave using an excavator after they were ambushed on a deserted highway in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.

The group was on its way to file election documents of an Ampatuan rival, Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, who is now a Maguindanao congressman. His then wife was among the fatalities.

"Today’s important because particularly the members of the Ampatuan clan, they are said to be the masterminds of the killings so if they get convicted, I’m hoping they will, then that would be historic in so far as statistics on culture of impunity would be concerned," University of the Philippines journalism professor Danilo Arao told ANC's Early Edition.

"The whole world is watching because this is something that interests people outside the Philippines given that we are supposed to be freest press in Asia but we’re one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism and the Ampatuan massacre is such a glaring manifestation of that."

The conviction of the suspects, however, may be appealed, Arao said.

"The challenge for media is to continue the coverage, interest in this case because the tendency of many courts would be to move faster if they know the media are watching," he said.

A special court in Quezon City, where the case was moved for security, will decide on the fate of 101 out of 197 suspects at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, a maximum-security police camp in the capital's southern outskirts where some of the suspects are detained.

The 101 defendants, who have pleaded not guilty, face up to 30 years in prison without parole if convicted of even one of the 58 murders, lawyers representing many of the victims' families said.

–With a report from Agence France-Presse

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