KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/24 June)— The news that the families of at least 14 of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre have signed a deal that may exonerate the primary suspects in the case came as a shock to the Justice Now Movement.
The Justice Now Movement is the association of several families of the media victims in the gory manslaughter on November 23, 2009.
“This is really a shocking development,” Emily Lopez, president of the Justice Now Movement, told MindaNews Monday night.
While Lopez declined to further comment on the reported deal by some families of the victims and the primary suspects, she said that even long before, there were already efforts “to pay the victims’ families into out-of-court settlement” allegedly by the Ampatuan camp.
“In the past few months, I again heard that some families of the victims have been approached for a settlement,” she said on the phone.
Lopez said those negotiating supposedly in behalf of the Ampatuans “did not approach the families of the media victims that have shown a resolute stance on the case but those deemed with weak positions.”
Thirty-two of the 58 victims in the Ampatuan Massacre were media workers. They were brutally killed in a hilly portion of Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.
ABS-CBNnews.com reported earlier Monday that the families of at least 14 of the victims in the Ampatuan Massacre have signed a deal that may lead to a settlement with the main respondents in the case, with lawyer Harry Roque as the source of the information.
The main respondents in the multiple murder case are former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, and his sons Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Andal Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town. They have been detained in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City along with some other clan members.
Andal Jr. was the alleged leader of the estimated 100 gunmen that waylaid the convoy of the victims, who were on their way to Shariff Aguak town to file the certificate of candidacy for governor of then Buluan town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for the May 2010 elections. The media workers were there to cover the filing of Mangudadatu’s candidacy.
A total of 194 people stand accused in the Ampatuan Massacre trial. Police have detained 103 of the accused but only 93 have been arraigned, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.
In an interview with ABS-CBNnews.com, Roque clarified that four of his clients signed “the authorities to negotiate” without his knowledge.
“This is why we’re going to Maguindanao on Wednesday to take their narration of events,” he was quoted as saying.
He said the authorities to negotiate, copies of which were not even given the families of the victims, were signed in February.
“Then two weeks after, the negotiator was reportedly killed,” ABS-CBNnews.com quoted Roque as saying.
The scheme, according to him, would lead to a waiver and a quitclaim. It also points the blame to the husband of one of the victims, Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, the report added.
Lopez said she was set to fly to Manila on Tuesday to attend another arraignment for the case on June 26, and to talk with lawyers about this development.
She said that some of the families belonging to the Justice Now Movement are being assisted by the Public Interest Law Center. The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is also helping the group.
The Center for International Law, which is headed by Roque, also provides legal assistance to some families of the media victims. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)