Witnesses key to finding remains of 58th victim in Ampatuan Massacre

MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews/24 November) — Government is looking for witnesses who could shed light on where the 58th victim, Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, a photographer of Midland Courier, could have been buried, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

De Lima told reporters Tuesday after delivering her remarks at the first anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre that there may be witnesses among the accused and those still at large who could provide vital information as to what really happened to Momay,

But de Lima said she is “morally convinced that Mr. Momay was really one of the victims” as there are “very strong circumstantial and direct evidences” that he was with the convoy from Buluan, Maguindanao and that he did not and has not returned home.

The retrieval operations for the bodies of the victims, more than half of whom were buried in three mass gravesites, ended on November 25, two days after the massacre, with Momay’s remains still unrecovered.

Momay’s dentures were found  on November 29 when De Lima, then chair of the Commission on Human Rights, went to the massacre site with foreign forensics experts.

Momay’s daughter, Reynafe Momay-Castillo, would  complain when she hears officials say the victims of the massacre were 57. “What about my father?” she’d ask.

De Lima told reporters that even as she is morally convinced Momay was among the victims, Philippine jurisprudence requires corpus delicti (body of the crime; literally the body of the victim in a murder case).

She said they will “research further” for jurisprudence that may just allow Momay’s dentures as the corpus delicti.

Because  there is no body,  Reynafe  cannot file a case but she joins relatives of other victims in attending  the trial of  massacre suspects in Bicutan, Taguig City.

The government filed 57 counts of murder against 196 suspects, including members of the Ampatuan clan — then Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr.; three-term governor Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., the patriarch who was called “Ama” by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; then ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, then Shariff Aguak mayor Anwar Ampatuan; then Maguindanao Vice Governor and later OIC Governor Sajid Islam Ampatuan and their brother-in-law, Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan.

Witnesses have pointed to Andal Jr., who was set to run for governor of Maguindanao, unopposed like his father was in 2007,  as having led at least a hundred armed men in stopping a convoy from Buluan, Maguindanao along the highway in Ampatuan town. The convoy of about 53 persons and five persons in two vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time, were herded into the interior, some 3.5 kilometers from the highway and there massacred shortly before noon.

The convoy, which included the wife, two sisters and other relatives of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, two female lawyers and 32 members of the media, was en route to Shariff Aguak, the next town after Ampatuan, to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor. The Mangudadatus were allies and partymates of the Ampatuans until the vice mayor decided to run for governor.

Using a backhoe, the perpetrators buried the victims, crushed at least three vehicles and buried them along with the dead, in an apparent attempt to hide any evidence of their crime.

Reports about the “hostage-taking” (as that was the initial report) and later the killings, were already repeatedly aired by radio and television stations and across cyberspace. Soldiers were starting to move towards Salman and a helicopter owned by the Mangudadatus was hovering the area at around 3 p.m. on the day of the massacre.

The perpetrators left the massacre site unable to finish burying the evidence of what de Lima described as “horror of horrors.”

Mangudadatu is  now governor of Maguindanao.  Given the number of lives sacrificed a year ago en route to the filing of his certificate of candidacy in Shariff Aguak,  host Boy Abunda asked him in his Bottomline show over ABS-CBN last Saturday: “are you worth it?”

“Yes,” Mangudadatu quickly replied.

Reynafe, who was a guest in the same show, had asked  what the governor would do to help her look for her father’s remains. The governor said they are working through their “intelligence network.”

At the anniversary rites here last Tuesday, Reynafe, her family and relatives, wore orange shirts to deliver their message: “Never forget 11/23/09. Bebot Momay missing Maguindanao Massacre victim” in front and  “Help us find Bebot Momay Maguindanao Massacre victim” at the back. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)