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Asean Affairs  23 November 2010

Legal foot-dragging in the Philippines and Thailand

By  David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs     23 November 2010

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Nov. 23, 2009, marks the date of what has come to be known in the Philippines as the Maguindano massacre.

The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre (after the site where the mass graves were found), occurred in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines.

The 57 victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, when they were kidnapped and brutally killed. Mangundadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., in the forthcoming Maguindanao gubernatorial election, part of the Philippines national elections in 2010. The people killed included Mangudadatu's wife, his two sisters, journalists, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy.

Almost 200 suspects were charged for the 2009 mass killing but the trial did not commence until September of this year. The trial had been on hold since February since the defense filed a number of motions that delayed the hearings.

It has been a year since the massacre happened and only 83 out of the 195 suspects have been arrested. Meanwhile, only 52 of the accused have actually been arraigned by the court.

The prosecution has presented a total of 14 witnesses out of the 270 individuals listed as witnesses by the prosecution.Relatives of the victims are seeking protection similar to that being given to witnesses, saying that some of them are receiving death threats.

Philippines Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Monday that she is looking at the case file of the Maguindanao massacre to see if there are still areas where the prosecution can improve their handling of the case.

De Lima will be in Maguindanao to join the commemoration of the massacre’s first anniversary there, said that she had instructed state prosecutors handling the case to take a more aggressive stance.

Meanwhile in Thailand, a noted Thai politician, Pracharaj Party leader Sanoh Thienthong ,has escaped possible jail in the Alpine land case because the statute of limitations expired. It is undisputed that he ordered the a Thai Buddhist temple to transfer the land in question to a foundation which six months later sold it to Alpine in which his wife, brother and close associates held 30 million baht in shares. The land was then sold to the Shinawatra family (the family of fugitive Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra) for 500 million baht. Thailand’s Council of State had ruled that the land was non-transferable and non-saleable.

As Asean countries progress economically, it is hoped that they will also improve their judicial systems to provide speedier trials to punish wrongdoers and protect the legal rights and interests of all their citizens.

The best antidote: a little travel might help.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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