GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/21 July) – The families of the 32 media victims of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre are demanding an audience with President Aquino any day next week after his July 25 State of the Nation Address to personally register their objection to what they say are special favors granted suspended ARMM governor and massacre suspect Zaldy Ampatuan amid talks of alleged deals between him and Malacanang.
Ampatuan was brought to the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City Wednesday noon from his detention cell in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, for a check-up but doctors recommended confinement for further tests.
“Pera at posisyon lang ang nawala sa kanila. Sa amin, buhay ng mga mahal namin sa buhay” (They only lost money and position. We lost our loved ones), said Grace Morales, whose husband Russell and sister Maritess were among the 32 media workers out of 58 persons killed in the worst pre-election violence in Philippine history. Morales was referring to those who lost in the 2007 elections due to fraud in Maguindanao which Ampatuan last week said was done on orders of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel.
“Conditioning na ba ito para masanay na tayo na nasa labas na siya?” (Are we being conditioned to get used to his being out of jail?) asked Emily Lopez, cousin of slain media worker Arturo Betia. Her fears were shared by other members of Justice Now! the organization of relatives of the victims from media, during their meeting Wednesday.
Relatives safer in jail?
“Baka umpisa lang ito ng marami pang alibi at darating ang panahon na mas makakabuti na sa mga pamilya ng mga biktima na pumasok sa loob ng selda for our safety kasi nasa labas na silang lahat” (this could be the start of more alibi and time will come when it might be safer for
the families of the victims to be in jail because all of them [Ampatuans] are out),” said Reynafe Momay-Castillo.
Castillo’s father, Reynaldo Momay, a photographer at Midland Courier in Sultan Kudarat province, is counted as the 58th victim. His remains have not been recovered, but for his dentures.
Dr. Danny Kuizon, PHC resident cardiologist, was quoted by GMA News Online in its July 20 7:02 pm update as saying Ampatuan has to be confined because “he is showing signs of a failing heart.”
In Malacanang on July 14, President Aquino met with 26 relatives of the massacre victims led by Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, whose wife and two sisters were among the victims. No representative of the slain media workers, however, was invited to the meeting.
Aquino assured the families he would do “everything humanly possible,” to ensure justice for the victims.
The meeting came amid reports of alleged dealings between the suspended ARMM governor and Malacanang for the former to be freed in exchange for turning state witness in election fraud and corruption cases against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Ampatuan has yet to be arraigned in the massacre case.
At the Justice Now! meeting here Wednesday, relatives of the slain media workers said their relatives, neighbors and friends kept asking them why they were not in the July 14 Malacanang meeting.
They said they want the President to listen to their sentiments about these alleged deals with Ampatuan.
Justice Now! members in Wednesday’s meeting agreed to issue a statement in time for the 20th month commemoration of the massacre on July 23.
Rowena Carranza-Paraan, Secretary-General of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the non-inclusion of the relatives of the media victims in the Malacanang meeting was “foul.”
The President met with 26 families. The 32 families representing the media victims were not represented at the meeting. “Foul yun. Kung kausapin mo yung relatives ng victims, dapat lahat.
Twenty six families sila. Yung 32 na kulang, media lahat yun,” she said, adding there was no semblance of consultation with the families. “Damage control yun,” she said.
Paraan added that if the intention was to consult with the families of the massacre victims, “why exclude media families?”
Members of Justice Now! are opposing Ampatuan’s move to turn state witness in the massacre case, claiming among others, that witnesses have pointed to the suspended ARMM Governor as among the planners.
“Kung gusto niya mag state witness sa plunder, election, sige pero huwag palabasin, at i-arraign na sa massacre case” (If he wants to be a state witness in the plunder and election fraud cases, okay but don’t set him free, and arraign him in the massacre case), Morales said.
A series of events last week triggered suspicions of alleged dealings between Ampatuan and Malacanang.
On July 11, Ampatuan appeared on television saying he would testify against his father and brother, a move many initially thought to be in reference to the multiple murder case. The interview was reportedly done two weeks earlier but embargoed for release until July 11. The
next day, July 12, Ampatuan again appeared in an interview aired over ABS-CBN, implicating then President, now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband Jose Miguel in the 2007 electoral fraud. Ampatuan also said government’s case would be strengthened if it got hold of Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol who went into hiding in late 2007. As if on cue, Bedol on July 13 appeared in an interview inside a van, aired also on ABS-CBN.
Bedol was turned over by the Department of Interior and Local Government to the Commission on Elections on July 19. On July 20, Ampatuan left his detention for a medical check up at the Philippine Heart Center.
“Horror of Horrors”
In a statement, the NUJP said Ampatuan’s admission at the Heart Center “highlights the need for heightened vigilance against attempts to subvert the arduous search for justice for those who perished in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre.”
“By all means, President Benigno Aquino III should pursue all avenues to bring his predecessor (Arroyo) to account for everything she has done against our country and people, including the unsurpassed record of 104 journalists – including our 32 colleagues who died in the massacre – murdered with impunity during her nine years in power. But, we reiterate, this administration should not sacrifice the search for justice for the massacre victims on the altar of political expediency,” the NUJP said.
In his four paragraph statement on the first anniversary of the massacre on November 23, 2010, President Aquino said the resolution of the massacre case “has become the litmus test of our justice system.
It is one of the top priorities of the Justice Department. We will not rest until justice has been served.” “Today we again offer our condolences to the families of the victims and vow to do everything in our power to achieve a timely resolution of this case and ensure that this does not happen again,” Aquino said.
At the massacre site on November 23, 2010, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said: “until and unless justice has truly been done in this case, none of us could truly claim that the Filipino people have managed to reclaim their humanity. That is because this case – the battle to bring those responsible for this horror of horrors to justice – is the quest of the whole Filipino people. We have their blood in our collective hands. If we can’t bring them to justice, then we are a
failure as a government and as a nation. This is a crime against the People of the Philippines in the truest sense of the term.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)