Death and remembrance: The Ampatuan Massacre a year after

MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews/23 November)—The bloodstained land in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, site of the gruesome massacre that killed 58 people a year ago today, was awash with tears and festooned with candles and flowers as the victims’ families marked the first year anniversary of the carnage.

Inset map courtesy of Wikipedia.Turned into a ghost-town after the brutal manslaughter, the (3.5)-kilometer dirt road from the national highway on Tuesday teemed with vehicles and some 3,000 people from different walks of life to pay respects to the victims, including 32 media workers, disturbing the eerie silence of the massacre site.

Security was tight all over the place, with tanks along the roads and heavily-armed policemen and soldiers watching over the crowd, an indication that the area wasn’t safe.

Gov. Esmael G. Mangudadatu, who escaped death after sending his wife and several female family members to file his candidacy for the May 10 elections, admitted that the hands of the Ampatuan clan, some members of which stand trial for the grisly crime, still pull some strings in the province.

“Despite being in jail, the Ampatuans are still influential because of their ill-gotten wealth,” Mangudadatu said from a prepared speech.

The governor expressed disappointment over the slow progress of the case, stressing that some of the Ampatuans accused in what is now known as the Ampatuan Massacre have not been arraigned.

Former Datu Unsay town mayor Andal U. Ampatuan Jr., the principal suspect, has been arraigned days after the massacre last year but he pleaded not guilty.

His father and namesake, former Maguindanao governor Andal S. Ampatuan, brothers Zaldy U. Ampatuan, suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; former mayor Anwar Ampatuan, former Vice Governor Sajid Ampatuan and brother-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, former OIC Vice Governor and Mamasapano mayor, have not been arraigned so far.

They are currently detailed at a maximum security jail in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

At the massacre site, a shrine listing the names of the 58 victims and a “social hall” rose in time for the celebration marking the first anniversary of the carnage.

Fifty-eight white balloons, each in honor of the victims, were released to the skies amid clenched fists and shouts of Allahu Akbar (God is great).

Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima, who was with Peace Process Secretary Teresita Quintos-Deles, relayed the Aquino administration’s “resolve to bring an end to the case with justice served for the victims.”

“In trial [in this case] is the whole government system… Let us not forget that these monsters run unfettered among us,” she said over loudspeakers.

Apparently referring to the Ampatuans, she added that the accused should not be allowed to sow chaos anymore.

Ms De Lima also gave an assurance that the government is doing its best to give justice to the victims, noting that there has been dissatisfaction in the way the case is progressing.

She said the Justice department will fight for the right of the victims’ families and the public to witness the proceedings of the case even without attending the trial.

Ms. de Lima said the televised proceedings would unburden the victims’ families, most of whom do not have the means to travel frequently, from attending the trial in Metro Manila.

Many of the victims were from Region 12 (Southwestern Mindanao).

She said the Justice department would exert all efforts to convince the Supreme Court to allow the live coverage of the trial, which is set to begin in December on a twice-a-week basis.

The trial commenced last September but only one hearing has been set each week. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)