Hunt down Maguindanao massacre suspects at large, PH gov't told

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 18) — An international human rights group urged the Duterte administration to run after dozens charged in the Maguindanao massacre case who still roam free.

The Human Rights Watch said the Philippine government's failure to arrest 80 suspects at-large who were charged with multiple murder is endangering the lives of the victims' kin and witnesses of the gruesome 2009 attack.

"The families of Maguindanao victims and witnesses will be at risk so long as suspects remain free," Human Rights Watch's Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said on Wednesday.

Of the 197 accused in the massacre, 101 people remain on trial, while 80 others are still at large.

With the expected handing out of case decision on Thursday, the Human Rights Watch said the government should continue to pursue all the accused.

"Regardless of the verdicts in the case, Philippine authorities need to apprehend the several dozen suspects still at large," Robertson said.

Of the 80 accused who have not yet been arrested, 14 have an Ampatuan surname. The rights group added at least 50 of the 80 suspects at large are police officers and soldiers, some of whom had provided a close security detail for Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr., the main suspect.

The landmark decision on the Maguindanao massacre case on Thursday will put an end to an almost decade-long trial. The Maguindanao or Ampatuan massacre on November 23, 2009 left 58 people dead, including 32 media workers, some civilians, and some members of the Mangudadatu family — a rival political family of the Ampatuans.

Relatives of then-Maguindanao gubernatorial bet Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu — accompanied by a convoy of journalists — were on their way to file his candidacy for the 2010 elections when they were attacked by gunmen, allegedly from the Ampatuan family. The corpses of the victims were found, shallowly buried, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province.

READ: How the Ampatuans allegedly killed 58 people

The massacre has been tagged as the world's deadliest single attack against media workers, and the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.