Wanting witness protection
Published by the Visayan Daily Star Publications, Inc.
|NINFA R. LEONARDIA|
Editor-in-Chief & President
NIDA A. BUENAFE
MAJA P. DELY
ANTONIO L. LEONARDIA|
Two months after a prosecution witness in the trial of those accused in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre had gone missing, his body has been found. The brutalized body of a man suspected to be Esmail Enog is reported to have been found in a sack, chopped to pieces by a chainsaw, at Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.
Enog testified last year, telling the court that, as an employee of the Ampatuan family, he drove 36 of the clan’s armed followers to the site where 57 victims were later abducted and then driven to the killing field in Barangay Salman. He is the second witness to have been slain after Suwaib Upham who claimed to be one of the perpetrators of the massacre and was conveniently killed in 2010. Both Enog and Upham refused to be placed under the government’s witness protection program.
Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde says the Enog killing “was intended to send a message, to cause a chilling effect to the other witnesses”. Aside from murdered witnesses, other prosecution witnesses and loved ones of the victims have reported being harassed as well as receiving offers of “settlements” that their lawyers call outright bribes in exchange for silence.
In response to this report, the Humans Right Watch has called on the Aquino government to “redouble its efforts to protect witnesses” in the massacre trial. Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson, says the witnesses “are in extreme danger and it is appalling that they are being hunted down one after the other,” and urges President Aquino to make witness protection a priority to fulfill his promise of justice for the massacre victims.
If the dismembered remains are confirmed to be that of Esmail Enog, it becomes the duty of this government to reaffirm its commitment to seek justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre by gathering the will to send its own message to the remaining witnesses as well as the perpetrators of the brutal acts. If any justice is to be served, the witnesses and their families have to be assured of maximum government protection, the lumbering trial has to be sped up, and the awesome power of the Philippine government has to be brought upon the killers of Esmail Enog and Suwaib Upham, the same way it was used to bare the undeclared assets of Renato Corona.*