By CARLOS H. CONDE
The New York Times
Published: June 24, 2010
MANILA — A major witness to the November massacre of 58 people in the southern Philippines has been killed, three months after seeking government protection in exchange for testifying about the worst eruption of political violence in this country’s history, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.
The witness, Suwaib Upham, was a member of the militia that carried out the Nov. 23 killings of a convoy of journalists and supporters of a political rival to the powerful clan that held sway in Maguindanao Province. The group was traveling to file election papers when Mr. Upham and the other militiamen herded them to a hilltop, shot the victims and buried them in mass graves.
The main defendant in the massacre, Andal Ampatuan Jr., is a member of the powerful Ampatuan clan, whose members controlled the political landscape in Maguindanao for the past decade. Mr. Ampatuan is in jail awaiting trial for multiple murder charges, and nearly 200 other people have also been charged.
On the night of June 14, Mr. Upham was shot and killed by an unknown gunman in Parang, a town in Maguindanao. He never received the government protection he had requested, Elaine Pearson, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
“Massacre witnesses are dying while the government sits on its hands,” Ms. Pearson said. “Suwaib Upham took enormous personal risks by agreeing to testify against Ampatuan family members, yet the government, knowing full well he was in danger, did nothing. This sends the worst possible message to other witnesses thinking of coming forward.”
Other witnesses and their families have also been threatened and, in at least two instances, murdered, according to police officials and human rights groups. Justice officials and prosecutors involved in the case could not be reached for comment.
Thirty-seven journalists and media workers died in the carnage, making it was the single worst known attack on journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.