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Key suspect in Philippine political massacre gets hero’s homecoming


philippinesOne of the key defendants in the Philippines’ worst political massacre returned home to a hero’s welcome on Sunday following his release on bail after five years in prison.

Sajid Ampatuan, whose politically-influential family is suspected of ordering the murder of 58 people in the southern island of Mindanao in 2009, was greeted by hordes of supporters and a huge feast at the home of a political ally in the troubled region.

“It’s a mix of emotions. I’m happy now but I’m sad because my dad and siblings are still in prison,” he said.

They are also on trial for the killings that shocked the world.

The court granted Sajid Ampatuan a provisional release in March, ruling against the government which wanted to keep him in prison along with more than 100 other suspects in the slaughter.

Sajid is a son of Andal Ampatuan Snr., a Muslim political clan leader accused of masterminding the massacre in his southern bailiwick of Maguindanao province on November 23, 2009 in a bid to crush an election challenge from a rival political clan.

Nine Ampatuan clan members are among 111 people detained for the mass killings that included 32 media workers, making the attack one of the deadliest ever recorded globally against journalists.

Despite the government’s efforts, the court allowed Sajid to post bail. The bail petitions for the other Ampatuans are still pending.

Sajid continued to maintain his innocence and expressed concern for relatives still imprisoned.

“The life inside the jail was so difficult. It is hot and crowded inside. But because of the help of Allah, I managed to survive,” he said.

While the case drags on in court, four people who had already given evidence or were scheduled to testify, as well as three relatives of potential witnesses, have been murdered over the past few years.

Many question whether justice can ever be achieved.

The Philippines has long been blighted by a “culture of impunity” in which the powerful believe they can commit crimes like murder and escape unpunished.

President Benigno Aquino, who was elected on a reformist platform in 2010, had vowed to fight this culture but there are fears the trial will still not be completed before his term ends in 2016.

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