Philippine leader hopes for speedier trial in murder of 58

Philippine leader hopes for speedier trial in murder of 58

MANILA - President Benigno Aquino hopes the trial over the Philippines' worst political massacre can be speeded up, his spokeswoman said on Saturday, the fourth anniversary of the murder of 58 people which shocked the world.

Aquino's spokeswoman Abigail Valte said the president had done what he could without interfering in judicial proceedings over the November 23, 2009 mass killing in the southern island of Mindanao.

"The prosecutors have always stuck to their instructions from the president to avoid delays on the part of government as well as to fight any attempt to delay on the part of the defence," she said.

"We're hoping... that it (the proceedings) would go faster," she added.

However she also said delays were expected because of the complexity of the case, with many witnesses, accused and testimonies to be heard.

The 58 people, including 32 journalists, were allegedly killed by the private army of the politically-influential Ampatuan clan to prevent a member of a rival clan from running against an Ampatuan in local elections in 2010.

The Ampatuan patriarch, two sons and several family members are in custody and on trial for the murder but the proceedings have dragged on for years due to irregular hearings and legal manoeuvres by the defence.

Activists have assailed Aquino for the slow pace of the trial, which has become a symbol of the country's "culture of impunity" where the powerful get away with the worst abuses without fear of punishment.

It has also become an example of the frequent killing of journalists in the country, which media groups say the government has failed to curb.

Aquino, who was elected president in 2010, wanted the trial wrapped up before his term ends in 2016, his justice minister had said earlier this year.

Several protests and commemorative activities over the massacre were held this weekend, many of them criticising Aquino over the case.

In the Mindanao city of General Santos, over 200 relatives and colleagues of 13 of the murdered journalists gathered at their gravesites to call for swifter action.

A banner at the site said "Ampatuan massacre: four years and there is still no justice".

"What happened to (Aquino's) promise when he started his term, to give proper attention to the case?" the General Santos chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Allen Estabillo asked.

He said despite Aquino's promised reforms, "the situation has not improved. There is still the culture of impunity, modern warlordism and private armies."

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