Ampatuan mansion picketed; Rally cries justice for victims

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 April 2010) — No, they did not post a notice of eviction or forfeiture but for 43 minutes last Friday afternoon, the Alliance Against Impunity (AIM) picketed the street fronting the main gate of the mansion along Kalamansi St. in Juna Subdivision, allegedly owned by suspended ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan.

The protesters, numbering around 60, marched from the corner of  Quimpo Boulevard to 1120 Kalamansi St., to express their outrage over the recent developments in the Ampatuan Massacre case, particularly the ruling of  Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to drop the multiple charges against the suspended ARMM governor and his brother in law, Akmad, for alleged lack of probable cause.

No one from the Ampatuan mansion came out but workers earlier seen on a scaffolding at one side of the mansion stopped their work briefly to check what was happening in front of the gate.

A black pick-up truck provided the sound system as speakers took turns to denounce the Arroyo administration,  Agra and the Ampatuans.

The picket ended with participants throwing water-based red paint on the tarpaulin bearing the faces of  what they called the “murderers” – Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and Senior, and Zaldy; Agra and Arroyo. Posters bearing their faces were also burned.

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Meanwhile, at the Centennial Park fronting the San Pedro Cathedral,  the crowd watching the  video footage taken at the massacre site as projected on the LCD screen was getting bigger.

Organizers opted to wait until the end of the mass at the Cathedral, before starting the rally. When the torch-bearing marchers from the mansion picket arrived, seven members from the Maskara Youth Threatre Guild of the Rizal Memorial Colleges, wearing what looked like bloodied shirts, staged a die-in on the side of the street across the cathedral.

A barefoot boy holding a rosary walked around the “dead,” apparently wondering if they were really dead. Minutes later, another boy stopped from where he was standing onstage upon seeing the “bodies.”

Relucantly, he moved forward and asked no one in particular, “patay?” (dead?) “gibaril?”” (shot?)

Vigil candles were lit and kept afloat on a pool of water.

Redemptorist priest Amado Picardal of the Coalition Against Summary Execution,  in his opening prayer asked  “what sinister motives” were behind Agra’s ruling. “Is this because they are friends of the President? Is this part of the scheme to ensure tha the Ampatuans will once again manipulate the results of the election that will favor the candidates of the president?”

“We are alarmed, Lord. The release of the two Ampatuan scions will restore them to their previous powerful positions and that will make it easy for them to harass or bribe the witnesses and the families of the victims.”

“Lord, as we denounce this miscarriage of justice, we continue to pray that justice will be given to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre,” he said.

Datu Monico Cayog and Jamaluddin Guinomla, also sought for justice in their interfaith prayers.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, represented by its Davao City chair, Socorro “Pinky” Cabreros, urged the public to unite behind the call for justice. “Let us join hands,” she said.

Lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, convenor of the Alliance Against Impunity, said the time to grieve is over as we need to work harder to ensure justice for the slain victims.

Lawyer Faye Risonar of the Union of People’s Lawyers in Mindanao Women’s Caucus said lawyers Connie Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo would have wanted to see the birthing of the Women’s Caucus but they were killed along with 56 other victims in the November 23, 2009  Ampatuan Massacre.

Risonar said the recent developments in the case have made young lawyers like her ask, “naa pa ba’y due process?” (is there still due process?).

But Risonar, daughter of  lawyer Marcos Risonar, one of three human rights lawyers jailed by the Marcos dictatorship in May 1985 and released just before EDSA 1986, said, the people must not lose hope. “Padayon tag-trabaho, padayon pag-alaga, padayon pag-advocate” (let’s continue working, continue caring, continue advocating).

Jeffrey Tupas, secretary-general of the National Union of  Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) Davao City chapter, read the chapter’s statement thanking Agra for “giving us more reasons to come together with the collective desire and strength to hold you and your boss, President Macapagal-Arroyo, accountable for the lives of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre and all the other victims of human rights violations that Arroyo allowed to happen under her watch.”

“Thank you for giving Filipinos more reason to resist yet another state-sponsored injustice. Thank you for teaching us to not let our guards down and for giving us the light to arise in rage,” the chapter’s statement read.

Rhona Goc-ong, reporter of SunStar Superbalita read the pooled editorial written by Davao City’s women editors which was published by the city’s dailies and other papers in Mindanao.

The pooled editorial urged Agra to resign immediately as it said Agra “ might as well have ruled that what happened at noon of 23 November was no massacre but a mass suicide; that the 58 victims of the Ampatuan Massacre killed themselves.”

“In contrast, the Morong 43 (43 health workers), arrested in Morong, Rizal on February 6, 2010,  were handcuffed, blindfolded, isolated for days, interrogated, tortured,  on mere suspicion they were members of the New People’s Army,” the editorial said.

The  pooled editorial also noted that five months after the massacre, “no one has been punished for the crime; no one has been punished for  helping build the Ampatuans’ armory of government-issued weapons and ammunition; the Commission on Audit has yet to release to the public a report on the special audit it did on Maguindanao’s public funds,  including the alleged misuse  of  its P84.4 million monthly internal revenue allotment; and the Office of the Ombudsman has yet to report its lifestyle investigation findings to the public. “

Dr. Jean Lindo of the Women Against Impunity  urged the public to also  fight for justice for the Morong 43 along with the fight for justice for the victims of the massacre.

Fr. Albert Alejo, SJ,  read his poem, “Sanayan lang ang pagpatay,” Gauss Obenza and Maan Chua of Mebuyan and Popong Landero performed at the rally.  Gabriela’s Nissa Opalla read a poem by Joi Barrios while two artists rendered a street ballet performance . (MindaNews)