CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 22 January) — Thinking that the presence of journalists would deter his rivals from making good their threat to chop him to pieces once he filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) for Governor of Maguindanao, Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu invited journalists, relatives and aides to join in the filing of his COC in the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak.
Mangudadatu’s filing of his COC was a challenge to Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of the three-term Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who was going to run for governor in the forthcoming elections in May 2010.
But Mangudadatu grossly underestimated the resolve of his enemies who were hell bent on preventing him from filing his candidacy. And so in the morning of November 23, 2009, a convoy of six vehicles carrying journalists, lawyers, and relatives left Buluan to file his COC at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Shariff Aguak. In the convoy were Mangudadatu’s wife, Bai Genalin Tiamzon; 15 of his relatives and supporters, two lawyers, and two drivers. On their way to Shariff Aguak, the convoy was stopped by more than 100 gunmen and then brought to a remote, hilly road at Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao where they were all mercilessly gunned down.
Aside from Mangudadatu’s wife, other relatives who are listed among the casualties are his sister Eden, cousin Rowena Mangudadatu, Aunt Manguba Mangudadatu, sisters Farida and Farina Mangudadatu, lawyers Cynthia Oquendo, Faridah Sabdulah, Concepcion “Connie” Brizuela, Catalino Oquendo, the father of lawyer Cynthia Oquendo, and Rasul Daud, driver of Sultan Kudarat Rep. Pax Mangudadatu.
Thirty two journalists were abducted and killed in the massacre. These journalists came from different media outfits including Manila Bulletin, DZRH, DZRO, Bombo Radyo Koronadal, Goldstar Daily, Central Mindanao Inquirer, Mindanao Focus, Mindanao Focus, Saksi weekly, UNTV and a slew of freelance journalists.
The remains of Reynaldo Momay, a photojournalist for the Midland Review, were never found although he was sighted with the convoy of journalists en route to Shariff Aguak with the Mangudadatus.
Of the 58 victims, six were not part of the convoy but were motorists who happened to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time when the ambush occurred. All 58 victims sustained multiple gunshot wounds in different parts of their bodies.
During the trial, some of the relatives of the victims testified on behalf of their loved ones who perished in the massacre. Esmael Mangudadatu, husband of victim Bai Genalin, testified that in the morning of November 23, 2009, he was in Davao City together with his children preparing to return to Buluan, Maguindnanao. They asked the police and the military for security escort for the convoy but was refused. At around 10 a.m. on that date, his wife called him stating: “hinarang kami ng maraming lalaki armado” and that Unsay slapped her. He then went to DXLV Radio to ask for help for his wife and companions.
One mother of victim Victor Nunez, a reporter of UNTV, testified that when she heard about the killings she called Victor but her calls remained unanswered. She and her husband went to Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town where they saw the bodies of the victims being excavated.
Another witness, wife of victim Joel Parcon, a journalist, stated that when she learned about the killing incident and was able to verify that her husband was one of those who accompanied the Mangudadatu convoy, she tried to call him. But when her daughter again called, the person on the other line said: “Patay na tatay mo.”
The mother of the victim Jolito Evardo, cameraman of UNTV, testified that Jolito told them that he was joining the convoy in filing the COC of Toto Mangudadatu. She forbade his son to go because of the peace and order situation but the latter insisted.
The mother of Daryl Vincent, 20 and an employee of an LGU of Tacurong, testified that at the time of her son’s death he was single because he wanted a good life for his parents and siblings.
Eden Ridao, wife of Anthony Ridao, one of the chance victims, and an employee of the National Statistical Coordinating Board in Cotabato City, testified that on that fateful day she heard passersby talking about the difficulty of passing along the Ampatuan segment of the road. She was disturbed by what she heard and tried calling her husband but to no avail. She searched for her husband and called his boss who told her that he did not report for work. Thinking that this was an unusual occurrence, she panicked because the ambush occurred along Ampatuan road which was the only route to Anthony’s work in Cotabato City. In the afternoon of November 24, 2009, her brother-in-law checked the site and there they found the cadaver of Anthony.
Ordinary working family men and women, sons and daughters – all died, brutally killed on November 23, 2009. Fifty seven of them would get some semblance of justice ten years later. One still seeks for that. (To be continued)
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao)