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Philippines marks massacre anniversary with calls for justice

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Ampatuan (Philippines) (AFP)

Relatives of 58 people slain in the Philippines' worst political massacre held a tearful vigil Saturday to mark a decade since the killings, voicing anger at the slow pace of justice.

Tearful family members lit candles and released white balloons as children sang a chorus calling for justice at a southern Philippine town where 58 people, including 32 media workers, were slaughtered and dumped in roadside pits in November 2009.

"We have known for a long time who the guilty parties are. They must come out with the rightful decision now," Jergin Malabanan, whose mother was among the journalists killed in one of the world's deadliest ever attacks on media workers, told AFP.

Malabanan, who was 15 at the time, became the sole breadwinner for herself and four younger siblings with the death of her mother Gina de la Cruz, who was separated from her husband.

Ampatuan family dynasty leaders, who ruled the impoverished southern province of Maguindanao, are charged with organising the killing in a bid to quash an election challenge from local rival Esmael Mangudadatu.

The case has dragged on for years, with allegations of bribery and delay tactics against the defence, which once included Salvador Panelo, President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman.

The trial ended in July, but the Supreme Court gave the lower court judge until December 20 to go over the evidence on which her verdict on some 100 defendants will be based.

A low-flying military helicopter dropped a shower of flowers Saturday as about a thousand relatives, journalists, friends and local officials gathered around a hilltop concrete marker where the 58 victims' names were inscribed.

"Let us keep our guard up," Mangudadatu, now a member of the House of Representatives, told the relatives, warning them the killers would likely use the appeals courts against any unfavourable verdict.

"We expect that my brother and the rest of the victims will finally get justice soon," Freddie Ridao, a member of the executive council of the nearby city of Cotabato told AFP.

Though the Ampatuans no longer hold top elected posts in Maguindanao, official results show at least 25 of them, including one of the principal defendants who is out on bail, won local seats in May's elections.

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