(Bloomberg) -- The long-awaited verdict on the world’s single deadliest attack on journalists is set to be released Thursday, 10 years after 58 people, including 32 members of the media, were shot to death and buried in a shallow grave in southern Philippines.A court in Quezon City is expected to hand down verdicts for the almost 200 defendants charged with murder and other offenses. The two main accused -- former mayor Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr and his brother, Zaldy -- are from one of Maguindanao’s most powerful clans. Prosecutors say the massacre, allegedly carried out by the Ampatuan’s private army on a convoy that included opposition politician Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife and sisters, was connected to provincial elections.One of the worst incidents of election violence in the Philippines’ history, the Nov. 23 2009 massacre followed decades of escalating clan violence, entrenched corruption and political kickbacks. Key members of the Ampatuan family, including Andal Ampatuan Jr and his father, the Maguindanao Governor, Andal Ampatuan Sr, who has since died, were charged and removed from their posts.The Ampatuan brothers have pleaded not guilty to the murder charges, with their defense focusing on the supposed lack of evidence directly linking them to the massacre.Clan Politics“This is going to be a critical juncture in our history,” said Francisco Lara, sociology lecturer at the University of the Philippines who specializes in political economy of conflict and has written about the Maguindanao massacre. “If the suspects are convicted, it will spell changes in the configuration of power in the country. A guilty verdict will have a dampening effect on clan feuds in Maguindanao, as it will signal that what Ampatuans did before cannot be done anymore.”It will also have an impact on the dynamics between the state and clans, Lara said. “If the decision is favorable for the victims, clans will see that there’s a possibility of getting justice from the center, so it weakens them. They will realize that justice can be rendered not just by clans, but by the state.”There is no indication how President Rodrigo Duterte will respond to the verdict. After meeting families of those murdered, Duterte last year instructed the prosecution panel to deliver a partial verdict against some of the accused.Still, 80 suspects are still at large, and at least 50 of those were close security detail for Andal Ampatuan Jr, Human Rights Watch said in a statement. Since the trial started in 2010, victims’ families and media groups have reported harassment and threats, forcing the family of one of the journalist victims to seek asylum abroad.To contact the reporters on this story: Ruth Pollard in New Delhi at email@example.com;Andreo Calonzo in Manila at firstname.lastname@example.orgTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at email@example.com, Muneeza NaqviFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
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