Sudden death, Slow justice: 23 Nov 2009 – 23 Nov 2010

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/22 Nov) – Families and colleagues of the 32 journalists who were killed in the gruesome Ampatuan Massacre will stage a caravan Tuesday to the carnage’s site in the outskirts of Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province to commemorate its first anniversary.

Ricardo Cachuela, chair of the Justice Now! Movement, said hundreds of family members, friends and colleagues of the slain journalists will gather in this city Tuesday morning to join the caravan, which will pass through Koronadal City in South Cotabato and Tacurong City and Isulan town in Sultan Kudarat en route to the site of the killings in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.

“This will be a very painful journey for us but we need to do it to show to the world our continuing struggles to obtain justice for our slain loved ones,” said Cachuela, brother of slain local newspaper correspondent Hannibal.

The caravan is scheduled to take off at 7 a.m. at the oval plaza grounds here and will be met by another group at 8 a.m. in Koronadal City.

Aside from the family members of the slain journalists, Cachuela said the caravan will be joined by members of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), local media organizations and several other concerned government and non-government agencies.

Rowena Paraan, NUJP national director, said among those who will join the caravan are participants of an ongoing two-day risk assessment workshop in Koronadal City spearheaded by NUJP for journalists from various parts of the country.

She said another group of journalists based in Kidapawan City and North Cotabato area will meet the caravan in Tacurong City while NUJP members from Cotabato City will join the main pack in Isulan town. “We will remember the fateful day by retracing the steps taken by our slain media colleagues and the other massacre victims,” Paraan said.

She said a mass and a brief program will be held at the massacre site around 10:30 a.m., which was the time the mass murders reportedly took place.

Paraan said they will use the occasion to reiterate their call for the speedy prosecution of the massacre suspects and for authorities to step the manhunt against all those involved in the killings who are still at-large.

She said the victims’ families and colleagues will visit various cemeteries in the area to spend some time at the graves of the massacre victims.

John Paul Jubelag, president of the Publishers Association of General Santos, said a concert will be held in the city later in the evening as part of the anniversary activities.

A group of armed men allegedly led by principal suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr. held and later killed members of the family of then Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, their lawyers and at least 30 journalists who were on their way to file the vice mayor’s certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak town.

Joint police, Army and civilian search and retrieval teams initially found at least 22 bodies scattered at a hilly portion of the massacre site and later retrieved 24 more remains at a shallow grave in the area. Some 11 more bodies were later retrieved from a second grave in the area.

The Department of Justice had filed 57 counts of murder charges against Andal Jr., former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Sr., suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, former acting Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan, several other members of the clan and more than 180 civilian volunteers and militiamen in connection with the massacre. No case has been filed on behalf of the 58th victim, Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, whose remains have yet to be retrieved. Only his dentures have been found.

Lawyer Nena Santos, counsel of now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, said a marker will be unveiled Tuesday at the massacre site to remember and honor the 58 victims.

“The marker contains the names of all massacre victims,” she told reporters. She said the shrine-like marker was commissioned by Gov. Mangudadatu, who lost his wife Genalin in the killings.

Paraan said police and military authorities in Maguindanao province and the neighboring areas assured the security of the participants in Tuesday’s massacre commemoration activities.

She said the Armed Forces of the Philippines deployed at least two Army battalions – the 46th and 33rd Infantry Battalions – to secure the area.

Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao police director, said they will augment the security operations in the area by putting up additional checkpoints along the national highways.

He said they will assign some of their personnel in various strategic areas to monitor movements of local armed groups and avert possible planned attacks similar to the roadside bomb explosion in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao on Sunday morning that injured at least two persons. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)