Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged [press release] Philippine authorities on Friday to put a stop to the killings of Maguindanao massacre witnesses and their families. Marking the third anniversary of the infamous mass murder of journalists, AI's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott remarked that as witnesses and the families of victims have become engulfed by a long and tenuous legal battle, "some are also living with the very real threat of death." According to Philippine police reports, three relatives of witnesses were killed this year alone. Additionally, a number of different witnesses who have come forward announcing their willingness to testify in court have been killed over the course of the last three years. The violence that continues throughout the Philippines stems from the November 2009 killing of 57 people, including 32 journalists, by an armed group of Andal Ampatuan loyalists [CSM backgrounder] who overtook a campaign envoy affiliated with Ampatuan's political rival Esmael Mangudadatu.
Litigation surrounding the Maguindanao massacre has been a source of contentious debate. Earlier this month, the Philippines high court had overturned [JURIST report] their year-old decision to allow for a live broadcast of the trial, a rescission that was opposed by Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino III on the grounds that it could impede the transparency of the trial. In June 2011, the court also decided [JURIST report] to freeze $23 million in assets belonging to massacre suspects. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [official website], the Maguindanao massacre is the single deadliest event for the press [CPJ report] since the CPJ began keeping records of journalists deaths in 1992. In the last twenty years, at least 72 journalists have been killed for their work in the Philippines, making it the second deadliest country in the world for journalists behind Iraq.