Ampatuan massacre: The little victories

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/14 June) – In May, the 18th month since a convoy of journalists and relatives of a candidate for governor in a Mindanao province was stopped along a sleepy highway and the people aboard the vehicles were all murdered, a Philippine court ordered a 20-day freeze on the bank accounts of members of the Ampatuan family that had been tagged as masterminds behind the gruesome mass murders.

A week earlier, a trial court hearing the multiple murder case finally arraigned the family patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. as one of the principal conspirators to the brutal killings that shocked the whole world.

While the first was a result of government arbitrary action against the suspects, the second was a tortuous consequence of criminal legal procedures which the families of the victims painstakingly pursued.

All the same, these little victories add up in the multiple murder cases against the Ampatuans and their co-accused.

The relatives of the victims certainly would welcome any legal victory that deprives the Ampatuans access to funds and resources that would delay their conviction or help them buy out of their legal binds.

Aside from Andal Sr., already arraigned was his namesake Andal Jr. who was tagged as the leader of group of armed men, more than 180 of them, who stopped the convoy and led the group into a secluded hill where the murderous spree took place.

His three other sons, including a son-in-law, and many others are fending of arraignment and using every available means to escape prosecution.

The freezing of the Ampatuan account would have been more significant if it was for the interest and the behest of the relatives of the victims and not for the state through the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLAC) which claimed that the Ampatuans have reportedly amassed more than P1 billion) in unexplained wealth.

Should the Ampatuans be found guilty of both crimes, relatives of the massacre victims could only hope that the civil liabilities of the suspects are paramount and should take precedence over the claims of the government.

It is easy for the victims to be wary of the move of AMLAC. They have the Marcos ill-gotten wealth and a US court decision that awarded compensation to thousands of victims of human rights abuses of the dictatorship to look back.

Post-Marcos Philippine administrations have placed state interest over the physical as well as psychological traumas the Marcos human rights victims suffered under martial rule.

The two little victories scored by both the government and relatives of the massacre victims, nevertheless, are welcome relief.

But should there be anyone who should benefit from the small victories, it should be the widows and orphans of the massacre victims. (Edwin Espejo / MindaNews contributor)