DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 October) – Relatives of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre and their lawyer are calling on President Aquino and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to initiate moves to speed up the process in delivering justice to the victims.
“I hope I can still find justice before I die,” said Juliet Ibardo, mother of Julieto Ibardo, a UNTV reporter among the 32 journalists who joined the convoy to their death on the way to Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy for governor of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, on November 23 last year.
Ibardo called on President Aquino and Secretary De Lima to speed up the cases, deliver justice to the victims to deter more killings in the country. “Once you give justice to the victims and punish perpetrators of the Ampatuan massacre, you will set an example that such a crime will not be tolerated,” Ibardo said in Filipino.
“Matanda na ako, sana makamtan man lang namin ang hustisya (I’m already old, I hope we can, at least, finally get justice),” said the 50-year-old mother in a forum eleven months after the killing.
Cipriana, widow of the journalist-victim Santos Gatchalian, said that despite threats to their lives, families of the victims have been braving it out to seek justice so that perpetrators will be punished.
But lawyer Harry Roque, counsel of 11 of the journalist-victims, complained that the cases have been moving very slowly and that the new administration has not been doing anything to fast-track the case.
“It is sad that President Aquino is not initiating moves to speed up the cases or even to make the previous administration accountable (for) the loss of so much lives,” Roque said.
“We want the Aquino administration to fast-track the process. We demand that the Department of Justice come up with strategies how to fast-track the case,” he said.
He also said the new administration even failed to initiate a review on the loophole-ridden Witness Protection Program (WPP) to encourage more witnesses to testify.
Roque described the first 100 days of the new administration as “disappointing.”
Eleven months after the killing, only three witnesses have so far testified in court, another one was killed even before he could testify, which only reflects the sluggish pace of justice in the country, he said.
On the average, it takes five to 10 years for cases in the Philippine courts to be resolved, something which the United Nations Human Rights Council earlier considered “too long a time for the victims to wait for justice.”
Roque said it’s not enough for the Aquino government to show that the trials have already taken off but the government should also exhaust all legal remedies to ensure that the victims should be given justice at the fastest possible time.
He also said that aside from the indemnities that will eventually be given by the courts, the “government also owes the victims the right compensation especially because, government officials were among the accused.
“Under the international human rights law, the state is also obliged to pay compensation to the families of the victims especially because people who were accused were men in government position,” he said. “It was government men who were accused of the killing, it should be government who should compensate the victims,” Roque said.
“It’s sad that after 100 days, the new government did not even bother to extend help to the victims,” he said. ”Under the Arroyo administration, it was understandable because the administration protected the accused but we have now a new government.” (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)