[JURIST] Eleven Philippines policemen and militia members pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder charges for their involvement in the November 2009 massacre [CSM backgrounder; JURIST news archive] that left 57 dead. The arraignment [Manila Bulletin report] was held in Camp Bagong Diwa, which is also the headquarters of the National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) [official website]. The arraignment of four additional suspects was delayed until April 30 after a last minute motion was filed by their counsel. The decision to defer was made despite objections from the prosecution that the motion was a deliberate attempt to delay the proceedings. Several family members of the victims attended the arraignment. The family members had filed a manifestation with the court asking that the proceedings be delayed [Reuters report] until after upcoming elections, as they fear justice can not be served under current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website]. The court acknowledged the manifestation but still proceeded. The timing of the arraignment, as well as the pending trials of several other key suspects, has increased the concern over potential violence surrounding the May elections.
The arraignment comes just days after prosecutors dropped charges[AP report] against two massacre suspects, causing accusations of political interference. Last month, a Quezon City court dismissed [JURIST report] rebellion charges against 24 people, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., the leader of a Muslim clan in the Philippines' semi-autonomous southern province of Maguindanao, and four of his family members. The Ampatuans and several of their followers are alleged to have intercepted Esmael Mangudadatu's convoy en route to declare his candidacy for governor at a regional election office, ultimately forcing his convoy to a remote hilltop where the Ampatuans' group killed and buried them. In order to prove their cases against the large number of accused, the prosecution will have to rely heavily on oral testimonies [JURIST op-ed] that can often prove to be problematic. Following the killings, Arroyo imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in Maguindanao. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure [JURIST reports] and domestic legal challenges.