MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews/22 November) – Monday, November 23, 2015, is exactly six years since that Monday morning massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, but justice remains elusive, and in the words of Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of one of the 58 victims, “dulom pa sa alkitran,” (darker than tar).
The remains of Castillo’s father, Reynaldo Momay, photojournalist at Midland Courier in Tacurong City, were never found, but for his dentures. A nurse by profession, Castillo and her family migrated to the United States in 2012 but she continues to fight for justice through social media.
FIRST TIME. Five-year old Ronnie “Nono” Perante III offers candles at the symbolic gravemarker of his father Ronnie Perante at the site of the November 23, 2009 massacre of in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Saturday, November 20, 2015. It was Nono’s first visit to the massacre site. Nono was still in his mother’s womb when his father, a reporter of Gold Star Daily, was killed along with 57 others in the worst pre-election violence in Philippine history. MindaNews photo by TOTO LOZANO
“Haaaay. 6 years na, dulom pa sa alkitran ang hustisya” (Six years now and justice is darker than tar), she told MindaNews.
Reacting to a post featuring a photograph of five-year old Ronnie “Nono” Perante III, visiting for the first time the site where his father, Ronnie, correspondent of the Goldstar Daily was massacred along with 57 others, in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao, Castillo wrote: “Nono, limang taon ka na at ni anino ng tatay mo di mo nasilayan, anim na taon na rin ako at mga anak ko na nangungulila sa tatay ko na magpahangang ngayon ay di namin alam kung nasaan ang katawan” (Nono, you are five years old now and you never got to see your father, it’s been six years also since I and my children have been grieving for Papa whose remains have not been found).
Nono was still in his mother Merly’s womb when his father was killed. He is turning 6 on February 18.
“Di tayo titigil hanggang sa huli. Magkasama tayo sa laban na to. Ipagdasal natin na ang susunod na Presidente ay yong may puso na itigil ang impunity, hindi lang sa pangako kung hindi sa gawa. Ipagdasal natin na balang araw gigising tayo na abot kamay na ang hustisyang inaasam para sa mga tatay natin at sa iba pang biktima ng maguindanao massacre” (We will not stop until the end. We will be together in this fight. Let us pray that the next President will be one who has the heart to end the impunity, not just in words, but in action. Let us pray that someday, we will wake up to find the justice that we long for our fathers and the other victims of the massacre, within reach), Castillo added.
Nono visited the massacre site on Saturday, November 21, with his mother and brother Ronnie, Jr., and other relatives of media victims, to light candles and offer flowers.
Merly said she had to explain to Nono that this was the area where his father was gunned down but his father was buried in the memorial park in General Santos City which they visit regularly.
At the evidence yard of the Philippine National Police regional office in Tambler, General Santos City which the relatives visited on Saturday afternoon from the massacre site in Maguindanao, Nono slipped through the barbed wire fence of the evidence yard and went straight to the backhoe of the Maguindanao provincial government, unaware that this was the backhoe used in burying some of the victims, including his own father.
Five year old Ronne “Nono” Perrante III, son of Goldstar Daily correspondent Ronnie Perante, one of 58 victims of the Ampatuan Massacre in 2009, slips through the barbed wire fence at the evidence yard of the police regional office in Tambler, General Santos City on Saturday afternoon, November 21, and immediately proceeds to the backhoe, unaware it was the backhoe that buried some of the victims including his own father. Nono was still in his mother’s womb when his father was killed. MindaNews photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas
Fifty-eight persons were killed that Monday five years ago, 32 of them from the media, in the worst pre-election-related violence in the country and the single largest attack on journalists in the world.
The then very powerful political clan headed by the patriarch Andal Ampatuan, Sr., a major ally of then President Gloria Macapgal-Arroyo, was blamed for the massacre, with then Datu Unsay mayor Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. pinpointed by witnesses as leading the group that stopped the convoy headed by the wife of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu along the highway and herded them off at gunpoint to Sitio Masalay some three kilometers away.
The convoy of 52 was on its way to the provincial capitol in the next town, Shariff Aguak, where the provincial Commission on Election office is located, to file the certificate of candidacy of Mangudadatu, a former Ampatuan ally, for the post of governor. Ampatuan Jr. intended to run for governor unopposed, as his father, three-term governor was, in 2007.
Aside from the 52, six other persons in two Cotabato-bound vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time, were also diverted towards Masalay, at the foothills of Daguma Range.
No one would have known about the dastardly act if the soldiers and a helicopter owned by the Mangudadatus had not reached the place at around 3 p.m. By then, more than half of the victims and three of the eight vehicles had been buried.
Last 7 months
The massacre happened in the last seven months of the Arroyo administration.
Mary Grace Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of News Focus, and her sister, Marites Cablitas, a reporter of radio DxBX, were among the victims, told reporters at the massacre site that she hopes the President would make true his administration’s promise of conviction of the suspects before his term ends in 2016 on June 30, 2016.
Aquino has only seven months left to fulfill a promise on November 23, 2010, at the first anniversary of the massacre: “we will not rest until justice has been served.”
“The resolution of these cases has become the litmus test of our justice system. It is one of the top priorities of the Justice Department. We will not rest until justice has been served,” said Aquino in the statement read for him by Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, during the commemoration of the fist anniversary here on November 23, 2010.
Then Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was with Deles, said: “What is at trial here are not just the accused, but our whole government system.”
“Until and unless justice has truly been done in this case, none of us could truly claim that the Filipino people have managed to reclaim their humanity,” she said.
“The battle to bring those responsible for this ‘horror of horrors’ is the quest of the entire Filipino people,” she said, adding, “we have their (victims’) blood in our collective hands.”
Not one of the 197 accused has been convicted since charges were filed in 2009. Two of them died in detention — PO2 Hernanie Decipulo Jr. in April 2012 and the patriarch, Ampatuan, Sr., in July 2015.
Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan, youngest son of Ampatuan, Sr. was freed on bail in March this year after payment of P11.6 million bond. Seventeen policemen were also granted bail but could not afford the P11.6 million bond.
Last month, Sajid filed his COC for mayor of Shariff Aguak whose previous mayors were his father, his brothers Zaldy and Anwar. He said he was tasked by his father to lead the reunification of the Ampatuan clan and restore political leadership in the area.
Convictions before end of Aquino term
On October 14 last year, following the infighting among government and private prosecutors as well as charges of corruption hounding the government prosecutors, de Lima took over the task of overseeing the work of the prosecution panel handling the case.
On October 5, 2015, de Lima told ANC’s Headstart that she believes a local court will hand down convictions against some of the accused in the massacre before President Aquino’s term ends in 2016.
“I remain confident that before the end of the President’s term, there will be convictions. Few, a few convictions,” de Lima said in an interview on ANC’s Headstart, abs-cbnnews.com reported on October 5, 2015.
De Lima said the primary suspects, Ampatuan, Jr. and Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, are the ones most likely to face conviction over the heinous crime.
“The principal accused Datu Unsay, former regional ARMM Governor Zaldy, because his application for bail has been denied also, and then syempre hindi na kasama dyan si Andal Ampatuan, Sr. because he passed away already,” she said.
A day after the Headstart interview, de Lima tendered her resignation as Justice Secretary in preparation for her running for Senator. De Lima’s resignation was accepted by the President effective October 12, 2015. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)