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Third Ampatuan witness dead


MANILA (UCAN) : The International Federation of Journalists called for a stronger and more vigilant protection of witnesses in court hearings on June 1, after it was reported that Esmail Engog, a witness in the Maguindanao Massacre trial, is believed to have been murdered.

Engog would become the third witness against the powerful Ampatuan clan to have lost his life in the process of the long drawn out trial.

The federation called for an immediate investigation into the death of Engog, who had testified in the Ampatuan trial in July last year.

The Ampatuans and their associates are accused of murdering 58 people, including 32 journalists in November 2009, ahead of elections for local governors in Maguindanao province, Mindanao.

Engog is believed to have been murdered and his body cut into pieces in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. He had been missing for around two months before police confirmed the murder, private prosecutor, Nena Santos, was quoted as saying on the website of the Philippine Inquirer.

She added that prosecutors were only told about his death two weeks ago.

Engog’s murder comes two years after that of another key witness, Suwaib Upham.

Engog, a brother of Rakim Amil, one of the 100 suspects accused of the Ampatuan killings, had testified that he had driven 36 of the accused, four of whom he identified, to the massacre site.

The International Federation of Journalists cited reports that Engog had returned to Maguindanao after testifying, having refused to be enrolled in the government’s witness protection programme.

“To ensure a fair and just trial of those charged with the Ampatuan massacre, it is crucial that the Philippine government protect the safety of all witnesses and their families,” the director of the Asia-Pacific office of the federation, Jacqueline Park, noted in a statement posted on its website on
June 1.

The International Federation of Journalists also called on the president of The Philippines, Noynoy Aquino, to “order the state’s
security and law enforcement agencies to arrest all the remaining
massacre suspects who remain at large.”

There has been much complaint about the slow speed of the trial.