Relatives of those killed fear that proceedings might drag on for years, giving the Ampatuan clan a chance to eliminate witnesses, something that has already begun with the slaying of Suwaid Uphan, who confessed to being one of the gunmen who carried out the slaughter.
The trial of Andal Ampatuan Jr and 16 members of his private army was set to start today, after months of repeated delays. However, the presiding judge gave the defence another week so that they could further examine documents presented during pre-trial.
“The court is very unfair and it is always favouring the criminals," said Catherine Nunez, a mother of one the victims, as she broke down in tears inside the Manila courtroom after the judge postponed proceedings. “They are rich. We do not have anything,” Nunez said. “Our enemies are powerful and we fear for our lives."
On 23 November 2009 in Maguindanao, a group of 100 members of the Ampatuan clan's private army allegedly stopped a convoy carrying 57 people, including more than 30 journalists and relatives of Ampatuan’s rival, Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, deputy mayor of Buluan, who was running for the governor’s office in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in May 2010. All of them were murdered, including Mangudadatu’s wife.
The Ampatuans have governed ARMM for more than a decade. They received funds and weapons from the Arroyo government, which used the clan to fight the Muslims rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf. This enabled them to build up a private army that ran in the hundreds.
At present, 190 members of the Ampatuan clan are charged with murder but only 17 are on trial.