18 months after Ampatuan Massacre, justice is nowhere in sight

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/22 May) —  Eighteen months after the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, justice is nowhere in sight, “the wheels of justice, which have always ground slow, appear to have stalled to an almost dead stop and, worse, remain in danger of being reversed,” the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a press statement.

“We have seen how otherwise brilliant minds can twist and bend the law to subvert the search for justice: the multiple motions that slow the judicial process; the perverted arguments – that the victims may have killed themselves or each others, that they died of natural causes, that the hideous injuries were insect bites – that have added insult to the already crushing anguish of the victims’ kith and kin,” the NUJP said.

It noted that the “dark forces responsible for the carnage” have been “allowed to remain intact – both in wealth and firepower – and continue to attempt to buy off victims’ relatives, and witnesses and their families, or, failing that, threaten or even harm them.”

The NUJP and relatives of the Ampatuan Massacre victims will troop to the House of Represetnatives tomorrow for the ribbon-cutting of the NUJP’s roving photo exhibit entitled, “Never Forget: The Ampatuan Massaccre.”

Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte will cut the ribbon at the North Wing Lobby for the exhibit curated by photojournalist Jes Aznar. The photographs were contributed by members of the Philippine Center for Photojournalism (PCP). The exhibit, which had been previously mounted at the University of the Philippines and the University of Sto. Tomas, will be open until May 26

A commemorative program will also be held to update the public on the status of the case and on the status of the contempt charges which the Court of Appeals is planning to file against NUJP secretary general Rowena Paraan and Monette  Salaysay,widow of massacre victim and Clear View Gazette publisher Napoleon  Salaysay.

“For commenting on the efforts of one of the accused to wiggle his way out of the charges, Monette Salaysay, widow of one of the 32 murdered media workers, and NUJP Secretary General Rowena Paraan, who is one of those who has worked most closely with the victims’ families, are in danger of being cited in indirect contempt,” the NUJP statement said.

“Should this happen, we fear that our search for justice might be dealt a fatal blow as a cloak of darkness and silence is thrown over the proceedings,” it said.

The NUJP  urged the countyr’s lawmakers to “join us and do everything within their means to ensure that the ends of justice are not perverted, that those responsible for this blot on our nation’s life – and that includes those within your ranks – be held to account and that such an outrage shall never happen again.”

The statement noted how “the person who made the Ampatuan Massacre inevitable through her penchant for drawing bloodthirsty warlords to her side by allowing them to build personal empires and armies continues to evade an accounting for this and her many other sins against the nation and the people,” apparently referring to the Arroyo administration.

But it also noted that the Aquino administration, notwithstanding its promises, “has failed, indeed refused, to dismantle these private armies, most of them accorded official sanction as state militia, thus allowing extrajudicial murders and the possibility of another carnage like Ampatuan to continue.”

The people, however, have not forgotten, the NUJP said. It cited the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey of May 4 to 7 that showed 51 percent of people are dissatisfied with how the government is handling the case, up from 46 percent in November last year, and an overwhelming 75 percent are saying the case is proceeding “too slow.”

Only one of the principal suspects, former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., has been arraigned thus far. The patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., and his sons – Zaldy, former ARMM Governor; Anwar, former Shariff Aguak Mayor; Sajid, former Maguindanao Vice Governor and later OIC Governor; and son-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan.

Andal Sr., will reportedly be arraigned on Wednesday, May 25. (MindaNews)