GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 23 Nov) – Families, friends and media practitioners marked the third anniversary of the grisly Ampatuan Massacre here Friday with a mock funeral of a dozen black makeshift coffins that morbidly slams the lack of justice for the victims until now.
Exactly three years ago today, 58 persons were horrendously killed in the massacre that shocked the nation and made headlines across the world. Many of the victims’ bodies were mangled beyond recognition by the powerful firearms of the suspects, who also buried them, including the vehicles they were in, in freshly dug graves.
Of the 58 victims, 32 of them were journalists and media workers, and their death was the single largest deadly attack against press workers anywhere else in the world in modern history.
Three years after, justice remains elusive for the victims. Not a single suspect has been convicted in what has been dubbed as the country’s “trial of the century.”
The court proceedings, according to lawyers of the media victims, were not even halfway as many of the prosecution witnesses have yet to testify.
Of the 196 suspects also, close to a hundred suspects remained in hiding in the carnage allegedly masterminded by some members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, including former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons Andal Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay, and Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The trio, along with several other family members, have been arrested and detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Wearing mostly black shirts with the printed slogans “Justice for Ampatuan Massacre Victims” and “Stop Killing Journalists!” families, relatives and friends of the media victims in the cities of Koronadal and General Santos gathered in front of the SM City General Santos and marched towards the Carlos P. Garcia Park fronting the city hall starting at 2:30 p.m.
Under the scorching heat, an estimated 100 marchers, including children, hoisted the makeshift coffins as they marched on the streets carrying placards, streamers and black flaglets, snarling traffic and drawing looks from those they passed along the road.
Their signages read, among others, “Tatlong taon na! Ampatuan massacre wala pa ring hustisya!” “Delay of justice is injustice,” “Justice not for sale,” “We want conviction of principal suspect Ampatuan,” and “End impunity.”
Grace Morales, wife of one of the killed media workers buried in this city, decried the slow grinding of the wheels of justice for the victims of the carnage, especially that some of the principal suspects have been arrested.
“They are in jail [Ampatuan clan members] but no one has been convicted three years on. Why can’t the government show its resolve by convicting even just one of them as an example?” Morales, also the secretary general of the Justice Now Movement, said.
She told MindaNews there were offers for the families of the media victims in this city amounting to P25 million as payment for them to withdraw from the case.
No one, according to Morales, has succumbed to the offer so far for the families based in this city.
Mark Cablitas, a 20-year-old son of another media victim, Maritess Cablitas, also expressed dismay to the slow pace of the trial.
“Justice remained elusive for us. Three years is already a long time,” he told MindaNews.
Under the Aquino administration, Cablitas, now a third year college student taking up a marine course, said that the wheels of justice for the Ampatuan Massacre victims seemed to “have taken a standstill.”
“Parang di umuusad (It appears not to be moving),” said Cablitas in the verge of tears. He recalled he was not able to see his mother because she was put on a bag inside the coffin as her body was mangled. The last time he saw his mother alive was early morning of November 23, 2009 at their house having coffee with some of the mediamen that eventually were killed later in the day.
After a short program at the park fronting the city hall, the marchers, bringing the makeshift coffins, motored towards the Forest Lake Memorial Park at 3:24 p.m.
With the security provided by the Joint Task Force GenSan, the coffins were laid beside the graves of the 12 media workers buried at the memorial park.
Happy and sad
Reynafe Momay Castillo, daughter of Reynaldo Momay, photographer of Midland Review whose body remains missing to date, also expressed her dismay to the slow pace of the trial, saying that three years now and still justice is elusive to the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre.
“I am both happy and sad. I am happy that at last, my father was included in the victims’ official list (the 58th victim they say) in the court. For me and for my family, it was another victory. My son would say, ‘Mom it’s 58. We don’t need to argue with anybody now. It’s official. It’s 58!’” she posted in her Facebook account.
“But I am sad because three years is very long to get justice for a crime that was publicly committed, a crime that had so many witnesses and strong sets of evidence. Sometimes, it gets frustrating to hear arguments in the court that they could have been killed by insects, that maybe they have killed each other,” added Momay-Castillo, who is now working abroad as a nurse.
“To fight openly for years is no joke. It was so hard that it made my life restricted. I became paranoid. I couldn’t freely go wherever I want to. Life was never the same not only to me but to the whole family. A son of another victim told me, ‘Kung buhi lang tani si papang indi kinanglan nga byaan ko ni mamang mag abroad siya kag magbantay sang bata sang iban para lang makakaon ko’ (If only Papa were alive, Mama would not go abroad to work and take care other’s children so that I can eat). For the victims’ families it was never and would never be the same again,” Momay-Castillo said.
“We are now commemorating the date of the incident, their death anniversary. But how I wish that, soon, we will celebrate victory as justice is served. We deserve a speedy justice,” she said.
As of the third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, of the 98 detained suspects, 81 have been arraigned, including the policeman who reportedly jumped to his death from the detention cell, said a fact sheet obtained by MindaNews from Emily Lopez, president of the Justice Now Movement, the association of families of the slain media workers.
There were 196 accused charged with 58 counts of murder.
Of the less than 100 at large, two have reportedly died, one of them from gunshots.
Of those detained, 57 have filed separate petitions for bail.
Of the members of the Ampatuan clan accused of involvement, only Ampatuan Sr. and Ampatuan Jr. have been arraigned. Both pleaded not guilty.
Since the hearing began on January 5, 2010, 307 motions have been filed by the defense and prosecution panels, of which 204 have been resolved. A total of 103 are pending resolution.
People’s vigilance needed
“Without the people’s vigilance, the “trial of the century” may end up as “the farce of the century,” according to a statement issued by Jorge Madlos, aka Ka Oris, spokesman of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines-Mindanao.
Now on its third year, justice still remains elusive for the families and friends of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre, the most brutal carnage in recent history, Madlos said in statement dated November 22 but emailed on Friday.
“Under the Aquino government, the court case against the Ampatuan clan has become even more tortuous and is turning into a farce. Since the case opened, the legal procedure, swamped with motions filed by the litigators for and in behalf of the Ampatuan accused, is almost at a standstill. Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.
“The trial is inundated with legal roadblocks that by now the cries of the families of the victims are drowned out; justice continues to be a blur,” Madlos said.
The Ampatuan Massacre was the worst political-related violence in the country.
The victims were to file the certificate of candidacy (COC) for governor of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, who eventually won the contest in the May 2010 polls.
He lost his wife Genalyn and several female family members to the brutal carnage on November 23, 2009 at Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
Mangudadatu was spared from the massacre because he sent his wife and several female family members to file his COC. The slain media workers were part of the convoy to cover the COC filing. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)