Solemnity, a song and sobs: Kin of media workers slain in Ampatuan recall the pain

MASSACRE SITE, Maguindanao (MindaNews/22 November) — Before a makeshift altar, family members of the media workers brutally killed in a hilly patch here paid respects to their loved ones Tuesday, a day before the second anniversary of the gruesome manslaughter that left 58 people dead.

Together with around 50 journalists from Mindanao and the rest of the country, the families of the slain media workers remembered the gruesome massacre without much fanfare but they pressed speedy justice for the victims.

It was a solemn mood occasionally broken my tempered cries from someone in the crowd, with one fainting apparently because of just too much emotional distress.

The mass presided by Fr. Robert Reyes, the activist “running priest,” was briefly interrupted after Salvacion Trinidad, sister of Ronnie Perante of Gold Star Daily, one of the slain media workers, broke down and lost consciousness.

It was Trinidad’s first visit to the massacre site since November 23, 2009, the day around 100 gunmen murdered the victims in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

A worker engraves one of the stone markers with the names of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, on Tuesday, November 22, 2011. Masalay is the same place where the carnage occurred on November 23, 2009. International media organizations have designated the day of the massacre as International Day to End Impunity. MindaNews photo by Erwin MascarinasThat fateful day was etched as the deadliest politically related violence in Philippine history.

It was also the single largest deadly attack against press workers anywhere else in the world.

In his homily, Reyes described the killing field as a beautiful and silent place, “so quite like a peaceful cemetery.”

“[But] in this place you can hear 58 men and women shout, “we will not rest in peace,” said the priest, noting their death should not be in vain and that they deserve justice.

A beautiful rendition of “Above All,” sang by Teresita Sajunia, a relative of two of the media victims, reverberated in the still air as some in the crowd held on to embrace each other.

Sajunia sang the same song on the 500th day after the massacre in a memorial in General Santos City.

A minute of silence was offered to the massacre victims, with those around facing the marker and tombstones, which the workers rushed to complete in time for the second anniversary on Wednesday.

Each elongated tombstone, about three feet high, cost P1,000, according to a supervisor on the ground. There were 58 tombstones in all, each bearing the names of the victims, but some were yet to be erected

Flowers were laid on the tombstones after the mass.

View Ampatuan Massacre in a larger map

The concrete marker, on the other hand, costs P150,000, the supervisor, who gave his name as Elmer Barnedo, said.

First on the list was Bai Eden Mangudadatu followed by Genalyn Mangudadatu, sister and wife, respectively, of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, and so on.

It replaced the old one on which the names of several of the victims were misspelled.

Of the 58 victims, only the body of Reynaldo Momay, photographer of Midland Review in Tacurong City, remains missing.

His name though was etched on the concrete marker.

Reynafe Castillo, daughter of Momay, said it was painful for her and the family that his body remains missing.

“You see me smiling, making jokes, but deep inside the wounds in our hearts have not healed,” she said in Filipino.

Castillo recalled a trauma healing session conducted on the children of the slain media workers.

Some of the children’s painting bore illustrations of a child looking from a window waiting for a father, and a child by a tree waiting for his father bring him pasalubong, she said.

For her part, Grace Morales, wife of slain Russel Morales of News Focus, urged the victims’ families to continue their quest for justice.

Rowena Paraan, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said that November 23 starting this year have been declared the “International Day to End Impunity” by international press freedom groups.

“The Philippines has become a poster boy for impunity because of the Ampatuan massacre,” she said, also urging for an unwavering campaign to seek justice for the victims.

The NUJP has been helping the families of the slain media workers in seeking justice for their loved ones.

Several members of the powerful Ampatuan clan have been implicated in the massacre, including former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan.

Andal Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town, allegedly headed the 100 gunmen in stopping the convoy and herding them off to the killing field.  (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)