x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Philippines massacre suspects' trial postponed

Relatives of the 57 killed in the country's' worst political massacre expressed outrage after a court delayed the trial of the main suspect and his alleged police accomplices.

Relatives of 57 people killed in the Philippines' worst political massacre expressed outrage on Wednesday after a court delayed the trial of the main suspect and his alleged police accomplices. "The court is very unfair and it is always favouring the criminals," Catherine Nunez, a mother of one the victims, told reporters as she broke down in tears inside the Manila courtroom after the judge postponed proceedings.

Ms Nunez said relatives of the victims were terrified that the Ampatuan clan accused of orchestrating last year's massacre would continue to intimidate them. "They are rich. We do not have anything," Ms Nunez said. "Our enemies are powerful and we fear for our lives." More than 20 other relatives of the victims were also in the courtroom today and they echoed Ms Nunez's comments. Andal Ampatuan Jnr and over 100 members of his clan's private army allegedly stopped a convoy belonging to a political rival in the southern Philippines in November last year and killed 57 people.

Ampatuan Jnr, then a local mayor, allegedly led the massacre to stop the rival from running against him for the post of Maguindanao province governor in this year's national elections. Relatives of the rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, plus more than 30 journalists travelling in the convoy, were among those slain. The trial of Ampatuan Jnr, and 16 policemen who were allegedly part of his clan's private army, on murder charges was meant to start today, after months of delays during which one key witness was murdered.

But presiding judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes told the court she had granted a request by Ampatuan Jnr's lawyers to postpone the trial for another week. The Ampatuan clain ruled Maguindanao province for nearly a decade under the patronage of then-president Gloria Arroyo. She allowed the Ampatuans to run their own private army as a proxy force to contain Muslim separatist rebels in the southern Philippines.

Ampatuan Jnr's father and namesake, Andal Ampatuan Snr, who was then Maguindanao governor, and four other other clan members, have also been charged with murder. In total, more than 190 members people have been charged with murder. However not all of them have been detained. Only Ampatuan Jnr and the 16 policemen were due to have their trials begin today. * AFP