Kin of Ampatuan Massacre victims cry for speedy justice, help for children

GENERAL SANTOS CITY(MindaNews/ 20 August)  —  A thousand days after the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons in Ampatuan, Maguindanao,  relatives of the victims continue to cry for speedy justice and assistance for the education of the victims’ children.

“There are still nights when I break down because I remember what happened to my brother. If I cry, I turn away and don’t show them to my family,”  said Ric Cachuela, immediate past president of the Justice Now Movement, the association of families and relatives of the murdered media workers.

Cachuela, brother of Hannibal Cachuela of Punto News, was among 50  persons who flocked to the Forest Lake Memorial Park here Sunday afternoon to mark the 1000th day of the carnage.

Of the 58 victims, 32 were from the media.

The principal suspects of the massacre are members of the Ampatuan clan, including the patriarch, three-term Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., and then Datu Unsay mayor, Andal Ampatuan, Jr., who was supposed to run for governor of Maguindanao in the May 2010 elections.

Ampatuan, Jr. was positively identified by witnesses as having led about a hundred armed men in stopping the convoy of  relatives and media and herding them towards Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, where they were massacred, a number of them buried along with their crushed vehicles.

The convoy was en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in the nest town in Shariff Aguak, to file the certificate of candidacy for Governor of then Buluan town mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu (now Governor).

Cachuela  told the crowd that at the rate things are going, he hopes “that one of the Ampatuans could be handed a verdict by September.”

He said families of at least 40 of the 58 victims have already been presented to the court by  the prosecution panel.

Oliver Cablitas, husband of Maritess Cablitas of New Focus, said the ghosts of the Ampatuan Massacre continue to haunt them.

“We have not moved on because justice remains elusive,”  he said after the mass in the memorial park, his voice quivering.

Cablitas stressed that justice for the Ampatuan victims can be hastened if only the Aquino administration puts the same zeal it applied against former Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona and former President (now Pampanga representative) Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Corona was removed from office after the Senate impeachment court convicted him for  betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Philippine Constitution  while Arroyo is facing several cases, including electoral sabotage.

“I believe that with the powers of the government, there are many ways so justice would be delivered to us,” he said.

Release innocent Ampatuans

Cablitas reiterated appeals for a speedy trial and even called for the immediate release of any detained Ampatuan who may be innocent of the charges.

“If any of the detained Ampatuan is not involved, he should be released immediately so that our fears would also be lessened,” said Cablitas, explaining that the longer the case drags, the longer their lives are in danger.

At least 196 persons have been accused in the worst pre-election related violence in the country and the single largest attack against media workers in the world.

Of this number, 95 have been detained. A detained policeman had allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the rooftop of the Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City

Aside from the patriarch and his junior, the other Ampatuans detained in Bicutan are Zaldy, then  governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Anwar, then mayor of Shariff Aguak town; Sajid Islam, former vice governor and Akmad “Tato” former Mamasapano mayor.

Case update

Emily Lopez, president of Justice Now Movement, updated the family members on the status of the case pending before the sala of Quezon City Regional trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

Among the detained Ampatuans, only Andal Sr. and Andal Jr. have been arraigned.

Citing information from a member of the prosecution panel, Lopez said all detained Ampatuans have filed petitions for bail except Zaldy and Anwar.

Zaldy’s petition at the Supreme Court to drop him as a suspect has been denied. He has appealed the decision.

Akmad “Tato” has also filed a petition before the SC after the Court of Appeals affirmed the filing of criminal cases against him.

The prosecution has presented 110 witnesses so far, including at least 40 private complainants. Of the 95detained suspects, 76 have been arraigned.

Lopez said Judge Solis is trying her best to speed up the trial, with hearings now four times a week; Monday for motions, Tuesday for public complainants, and Wednesday and Thursday for prosecution of evidence against bail and for trial-on-merits.

“But the continuing flood of motions continues and the judge has yet to resolve at least 60 motions, including defense motions to block 10 to 15 prosecution witnesses from testifying,” said Lopez, quoting the prosecution panel.

‘Assistance ending’

As the family members and relatives of the victims continue to cry for justice, they also worry about the assistance they are receiving for the education of the children.

Glenna Legarta, wife of Bienvenido Legarta of Periodico Ini,said she received a notice that the educational assistance from Bantay Bata 163would be until this school year only.

Legarta has three children — Unice Glenelg in high school and Cameron Ashley Ryan and Kenneth Chym, both in elementary.

“Life has been really hard. I don’t know where to get the money to send them to school,” she lamented.

Legarta claimed she has repeatedly asked the Department of Social Welfare and Development for assistance in the education of the children but said nothing has come out of  it.

Several media groups are helping support the education needs of the children of media victims, among them the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

Legarta said officials of the previous Arroyo administration vowed to extend educational assistance to the orphans of the media victims but the promises were not fulfilled.

Legarta disclosed that President Benigno Aquino has also extended financial help but not everyone has received it.

Other private groups allied with the Aquino administration have pledged to help but the pledges have remained as such, she said. (Bong S.Sarmiento/MindaNews)