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Rights, journo groups call for ending impunity, dismantlng of private armies after Ampatuan conviction

The 57 counts of murder conviction of the members of the Ampatuan clan for the 2009 Maguindanao massacre which left 58 people dead, including 32 journalists, should prompt government and advocates to step up their efforts in fighting impunity and dismantling private armies, rights and journalist groups said Thursday.

The groups made the call after several Ampatuans were sentenced to reclusion perpetua without parole by Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

"This momentous verdict should help provide justice to the families of the victims, and build towards greater accountability for rights abuses in the country. Advocates should use this verdict to spur further political and judicial reforms to ultimately end the impunity that has plagued the country for far too long," Deputy Director Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch Asia said.

"More broadly, this verdict should prompt the country’s political leaders to finally act to end state support for “private armies” and militias that promotes the political warlordism that gave rise to the Ampatuans," Robertson added.

The Defense Press Corps, on the other hand, called for vigilance so that the worst single attack on journalists and worst election-related violence in Philippine history would not happen again.

"Ten years ago, we lost 32 of our own.A decade later we have not forgotten and remain vigilant against all forms of impunity," the DPC said in a statement.

"The guilty verdict against the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre must serve as a clarion cry against violence, harassment and oppression directed at society’s vanguards of truth - the fourth estate," it added.

The DPC, however, conceded that the battle is far from over.

"It is said that “justice may limp along, but it gets there all the same.” The families who lost loved ones in the condemnable act of barbarity 10 years ago may have finally been given the justice they have been seeking but we, the members of the Defense Press Corps, will forge on in our duty to speak for the voiceless and call out tyranny where it takes root," it said.

The College Editors Guild of the Philippines also welcomed the court decision.

"The conditions which paved way for the brutal Ampatuan massacre continue to exist especially with the worsening culture of impunity in the country. Today we are a step ahead in our fight against impunity with the guilty verdict," said CEGP national president Daryl Angelo Baybado. 

“Today we join the families of the victims and the Filipino people triumph of justice. In our country bereft of it for too long, may the verdict send a message to everyone that the oppressed can fight, stand and triumph against those who abuse their powers,” Baybado added. — RSJ, GMA News