‘No political or judicial Yolanda please for Ampatuan massacre case’

MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 22 November) – Up here at the covered court where masses and programs to commemorate the anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre of November 23, 2009 are held, the priest who officiated the anniversary mass on Thursday prayed “no political or judicial Yolanda” would happen in the administration of justice otherwise “it’s just like we were hit by a typhoon or earthquake, we will be coming back here again and again to commemorate anniversaries but the case won’t move and justice is not served.”

In his homily, Fr. Rey Carvyn Ondap of the Passionist Fathers reminded the families and colleagues of the victims that four years multiplied by 365 days is 1,460 days of “delaying justice on the part of the justice system in the Philippines; 1,460 days is controlling justice, maneuvering justice, paying justice, playing justice.”

Fifty-eight persons were killed here on November 23, 2009 – 32 of them from the media, five from two vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time – when armed men believed led by then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., stopped the convoy led by the wife of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections, to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor. Ampatuan Jr., was going to run for governor himself.

Some 60 relatives and colleagues of the media victims gathered here Thursday noon for a mass and to offer flowers and light candles at the graveyard where 58 markers bearing the names of the victims were installed in 2011 and the unmarked graveyard across where the vehicles and some victims were buried.

Since 2011, the families and colleagues of media victims had been commemorating the massacre at the site a day or two earlier. Another commemoration led by Maguindanao Gov. Mangudadatu will also be held here today (Nov. 23).

Ondap offered specific prayers: for those in politics, that politics will not hinder the pursuit of justice; for those in the Church to continuously support the families of the victims; for those in the media to “recognize the presence of God, na walang magpagamit, kung sino man yung magpabayad o magpaimpluwensya ng mga pamilyang Ampatuan, magpabayad using media, sana walang ganyan” (that no one will allow himself to be used, to be paid or influenced by the Ampatuans).

He also prayed for the families to stay on the right path. “If we recognize God, we should not fear death. If there are threats then let it be. Sana walang magpabayad para uusad ang hustisya” (We hope no one will succumb to offers of money so that justice will be served).

“We should not worship the god of money, the god of gold. We should worship the God of Justice,” the priest said.

He prayed for the strength of the families of the victims, for the Department of Justice, especially the prosecutors, that they “will not abuse their profession (and let) justice reign” and for the lawyers, that “they don’t play justice, they don’t abuse their profession so justice will be served.”

“Four years, wala pa ring nakakamit na hustisya. Wala pa ring naco-convict (we have not achieved justice. No one has been convicted), Mary Grace Morales, secretary of Justice Now Movement, the organization of families of the massacre victims, said at the program after the offering of flowers and candle-lighting.

Morales reminded government about its promises to the victims’ families. She cited four points: that CCTV cameras be put up in Bicutan where the Ampatuans are jailed; that a jail visit be allowed for members of the media and the families; that live coverage of the hearings be allowed; and regular updates from the panel of prosecutors be given them.

Among the jailed Ampatuans are the patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., then three-term governor of Maguindanao; his sons Andal Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town who wanted to run for governor, unopposed like his father was in 2007; Zaldy, then governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Anwar, then Shariff Aguak mayor; Sajid, who won as vice governor in 2007; and son-in-law Akmad, then Mamasapano mayor.

Morales said it used to be that families were represented during the hearings but this was not sustained, hence the need to continue pushing for live coverage of the hearing.

During a visit to the evidence yard of the Philippine National Police regional headquarters in Tambler, General Santos City on Sunday, November 17, Morales said she would like to know if the guns reportedly locked up inside the red and silver container truck are still inside. The truck is parked beside the backhoe of the provincial government of Maguindanao that was used to bury 36 bodies and three of the eight vehicles.

Rowena Carranza Paraan, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), echoed Fr. Ondap’s prayer that there would be “no judicial Yolanda” that would happen in the case of the Ampatuan Massacre.

But Paraan maintained a “judicial Yolanda” can be avoided. If the media and the public remain vigilant, “walang delubyong mangyayari para hindi natin makamit ang hustisya” (no calamity can stop us from attaining justice).

She added that focus should not be on the trial alone but also on the reforms that are needed to prevent similar massacres from happening. She urged a stop to warlordism, private armies, political patronage and all these issues that led to the massacre.