Media groups and individual journalists from the Philippines as well as families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre expressed their “distress and disappointment as news reports, including from government media, have called attention to UNESCO’s classification of the entire case as ‘resolved’ and citing this as an accomplishment of the Duterte administration and its efforts to protect journalists.”

They wrote a letter to United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director General Audrey Azoulay on the supposed UNESCO classification of the Ampatuan massacre case as “resolved” that they said were based from news reports that were based on a press release of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMs).

The letter was dated September 12 and has yet to be acknowledged after a week.

The signatories said that the court decision on the decade-long trial of the massacre that saw 58 killed, including 32 journalists, touted as the worst case of election-related violence in the country and the single deadliest attack on journalists in the world, was a “triumph of justice for the victims”, but “one court decision does not mean that the case is ‘resolved.’”

The court decision on December 19, 2019 convicted 28 of the accused of planning and carrying out that most gruesome crime and 15 others as accessories.

The signatories cited reasons for the case not being resolved, such as the Ampatuan masterminds’ conviction currently being appealed and that almost 80 suspects (15 of them with Ampatuan as their last names) remain at large more than a decade after the mass murder. Convictions can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court—this, the cases not yet solved and those at large are among reasons the families of the 32 journalists and the witnesses for the prosecution continue to fear for their safety.

“Another principal accused, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, brother of Zaldy, Andal Jr. and Anwar Ampatuan, was acquitted even if he was present at the meeting when the massacre was planned. He is now an incumbent mayor of a town in Maguindanao province, where the massacre happened,” said the signatories in the letter.

More criminal charges were filed and have yet to be resolved by the prosecutor. These cases are those filed in January 2015 against Maguindanao provincial prosecutor against 49 other persons, including local government officials and police officers, for their alleged participation in the planning, execution, and subsequent cover-up of the Ampatuan massacre. 

“It is unfortunate that UNESCO’s conclusion appears to have relied solely upon government claims, without consideration for the other facts and contexts surrounding the case — a glaring oversight, considering that many of us have good relations and work closely with your agency’s Jakarta, Bangkok, and other offices,” said the media groups, journalists and families of victims who signed the letter.

The government newswire Philippine News Agency reported that Moez Chackchouk, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, announced this in his letter to Ambassador Theresa Lazaro, acknowledging the concrete efforts of the government in bringing to justice the suspects in the 2009 massacre.

“I am pleased to confirm that we will classify these as resolved, both in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists and in the 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists,” Chakchouk was quoted.

Various government officials hailed this as an achievement of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, University of the Philippines Department of Journalism, Bulatlat.com and Davao Today are some of the organizational signatories.

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