Ampatuan Massacre: Pain still there 4 years later

MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 21 Nov) – The moment their vehicle slowed down at the junction of Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman here, Nancy dela Cruz, mother of Ampatuan massacre victim and journalist Gina, felt a sudden twinge as scenes of the grisly killing flashed anew before her eyes.

The lonely road towards Sitio Masalay brought back to her the painful memories of November 23, 2009, when 58 people, including 32 media workers, were brutally killed in the area by henchmen reportedly led by members of the family of then Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Gusto ko mag siyagit, gusto ko maghilak. Naa pa gihapon ang sakit sa nahitabo (I want to shout, I want to cry. The pain caused by the incident is still there),” she said upon arrival at the site.

The 66-year-old Dela Cruz was among the nearly 60 media workers and relatives of the massacre victims who trooped anew to the site on Thursday morning to retrace the events that took place during the incident.

The visit was part of the ongoing commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the infamous massacre, which had been dubbed as the single deadliest event for journalists in history.

The activity was organized by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Justice Now Movement, which is composed of the relatives of the massacre victims.

The group held a mass, lighted candles and offered flowers for the victims at a portion of the site, the landscape of which has changed dramatically in the last four years.

A small community has sprouted a few hundred meters from the massacre site while the greenery of cogon grasses by the roadside has been replaced by corn crops.

A marker bearing the names of the 58 victims stands at a portion of the site where some of the victims were once found buried and beside it was a plot with headstones marked for each of them.

But in his homily, Passionist priest Fr. Rey Carvyn Ondap stressed that nothing much has changed in the past four years with the Ampatuan massacre trial and the quest for justice for the massacre victims.

“It’s been 1,460 days since the massacre and yet (the case against the suspects and their trial) have not progressed as we had all hoped,” he said.

The priest urged the national government to exhaust all efforts to help bring justice to the victims the soonest possible time.

He said it should set the matter apart from politics so the wheels of justice could properly move on.

“I’m hoping that we will not experience a political and judicial Yolanda, otherwise nothing will happen to this case,” said Fr. Ondap, noting possible “political and judicial upheavals” in the scale of super typhoon “Yolanda” that might eventually derail the massacre trial.

He asked media workers and relatives of the victims to remain united and steadfast in their quest for justice and not get swayed by various influences from the camps of the suspects.

For her part, NUJP chair Rowena Paraan vowed to continue efforts to make sure that proper justice will be served to the massacre victims.

She said the visit to the massacre site was very important to the families of the victims and media workers as it renewed their hopes towards the pursuit for justice.

“I’m just hoping that we will get that justice while we’re still around or within our generation,” Paraan said.

On Nov. 23, 2009, the victims were on their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu for governor when their convoy was waylaid here.

Around 100 gunmen allegedly headed by former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. herded them off to a hilly portion of Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman, where they were brutally killed.

Mangudadatu was spared from the massacre after he sent his wife Genalyn and several female family members to file his candidacy. The media workers were part of the convoy to cover the filing.

Of the 197 massacre suspects initially charged with multiple murder in 2010, three had been removed from the list due to the death of the accused, lack of probable cause and dropping from the case’s information.

Fifteen of the remaining 194 accused were members of the influential Ampatuan political clan of Maguindanao.

Eight of them led by the Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. had been arrested and already arraigned before Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221.

The seven others are the elder Ampatuan’s sons former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Jr., former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy, former Maguindanao vice governor Sajid Islam and former Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao Mayor Anwar Sr.; nephew and brother-in-law former Mamasapano, Maguindanao Mayor Akmad Sr.; and grandsons former Shariff Aguak vice mayor Anwar Jr. and Anwar Sajid.

To date, a total of 104 massacre suspects have been so far arrested, two of whom have yet to be arraigned.

Out of the 90 suspects who are still at-large, seven were members of the Ampatuan clan: former Mamasapano Mayor Bahnarin, Mama, Saudi Jr., Kanor, Moning, Norodin and Harris. (MindaNews)