Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), lauded the Philippine National Police (PNP) for the arrest of Datu Harris Ampatuan in Cotabato City, one of the suspects in the 2009 killing of journalists in what has been called the Maguindanao massacre.
“I commend the men and women from the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) headed by Brig. Gen. Eliseo Cruz for the arrest of Datu Harris Ampatuan, one of the accused in the 2009 massacre that claimed the lives of so many people. Being a member agency of this Presidential Task Force, we salute you for tirelessly heeding the call for justice,” Sy Egco said.
Described as one of the worst election-related violence in Philippine history, around 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers, were killed on November 23, 2009, while in a caravan to witness the filing of the candidacy of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for the 2010 gubernatorial elections in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.
“We have put in place several proactive measures to protect media workers this election season.”
“I assure you that we at the PTFoMS solemnly vow to not allow this gruesome tragedy to happen again. That is our reason why we have put in place several proactive measures to protect media workers this election season in collaboration with the PNP, such as the designation of Media Security Vanguards in every city, province, and region all over the country,” he said.
Upon the request of Sy Egco, the PNP has designated its Public Information Officers (PIOs) nationwide as PTFoMS’ Media Security Vanguards because they act as the first line of defense of media workers, especially during elections when incidents of media violence are expected to rise.
The PNP reported that Datu Harris was arrested by personnel of the CIDG Maguindanao Field Unit on April 20 at the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao compound in Cotabato City, by virtue of the warrant of arrest issued by Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City against the suspect for 43 counts of murder.
It was reported that Datu Harris, who had a bounty of P300,000 under DILG Memo Circular 2010-76, was part of the Ampatuan private army and was among those who attended the meetings where the Ampatuans planned the massacre.
Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar, the co-chair of the PTFoMS, welcomed the arrest.
“There is no escaping the law.”
“The Duterte Administration has made it a high priority to bring to justice all persons involved in the Maguindanao Massacre. There is no escaping the law. It’s just a matter of time until all those responsible for this massacre are put behind bars,” Andanar said.
Sy Egco said the task force is relentless in overseeing and monitoring the manhunt operations against the suspects still at large. Datu Harris’ arrest came after an ongoing directive by the Task Force for all law enforcement agencies to intensify the manhunt for the remaining suspects.
On December 19, 2019, Judge Reyes convicted Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, the masterminds of the infamous Maguindanao Massacre, of 57 counts of murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua without parole.
Twenty eight other co-accused including police officers were also convicted of 57 counts of murder and sentenced to 40 years, while 15 other accused were sentenced to 6-10 years for being accessories to the crime.
Sy Egco said the conviction was a product of the immense support given by President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to the victims of the massacre.
The PTFoMS was created by President Duterte in 2016 as an inter-agency task force directly under his office in order to combat the perceived impunity in the killings of journalists that transpired during past administrations.
In the recent 2021-2022 “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report” released by UNESCO, it highlighted the Philippines as among a very few countries in the world that have undertaken “good practices and positive measures” in the safety of journalists.
The UNESCO report also cited the establishment by the Philippine government of “a special task force for the safety of journalists,” now being emulated in other parts of the world.