Mass convictions of local warlords for 2009 massacre revive faith in Philippines' justice system

The election of the violent Philippine autocrat Rodrigo Duterte and the subsequent widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, and other crimes against humanity was a blow to the rule of law in the Philippines and the democracy advocates who have struggled to make a just society after centuries of colonial exploitation.

But a recent court decision has revived some faith in the country's judiciary: five members of the Ampatuan clan — a powerful warlord family that holds near-absolute sway in the province of Maguindanao — were convicted for their role in the 2009 massacre of 58 women, 32 of them journalists. The men received life sentences. Three others were also convicted. The hit men who performed the killings were also sentenced to 6-10 years, and another 80 suspects (including more Ampatuan family members) remain at large.

The Ampatuans control most of the political offices in Maguindanao and have historically controlled the province's justice system. The massacre targeted members of a rival clan, the Mangudadatus, who had taken the governorship. The convoy attacked by the Ampatuans was composed of female relatives of Governor Mangudadatu en route to a polling place, and journalists covering the event. They were kidnapped by hired killers, shot and dumped in a mass grave.

Amnesty International hailed the court decision, but called for the dismantling of Philippines warlords' "private armies."

The victims were mainly female relatives of Mr Mangudadatu and journalists who had been covering the story.

No male relatives of Mr Mangudadatu went with them, as they feared they would come under attack. Mr Mangudadatu said he did not think women would be attacked.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) described the killing as the single deadliest event for journalists in history. And today, journalists in the Philippines are not entirely safe.

According to the CPJ, it still remains the 10th most dangerous country to be a journalist, with some facing "online abuse and personal attacks" for their critical reporting of the government.

Maguindanao : Philippine family clan members guilty of massacre [BBC]

(Thanks, Kathy Padilla!)