5 years later, former residents in massacre site coming back

MASSACRE SITE, AMPATUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 10 Nov) – It’s been close to five years now since the infamous Maguindanao Massacre took place here in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman of this town where the bloodiest election-related atrocity marked the history of this country.

But unlike before, new hope has started to surface now as former resident farmers have started coming back to till their farms, news houses have been built and a small community can now be seen around the mass grave.

Acrima Abdulkarim, 42, is living with husband, a farmer, her son and daughter in a small shanty, just 50 meters downhill from the landmark grave.

She said they fear no more in coming back to this place, knowing the security situation has stabilized. Her family depends only on planting corn and other agricultural products for their everyday needs in the village of Salman.

“Some are asking if we’re not afraid of the victims’ ghosts showing up. But I said I’m more afraid to see those armed men roaming around this community,” Acrima said in the Maguindanao dialect.

Asked to recall where she was during the carnage, she answered, “We were doing our daily farming routine a kilometer away from the massacre site. We could only hear the gunfire,” she revealed.

On that same day, the family decided to leave their home, afraid that some armed men would come and wreak havoc in the community.

It was only last year that they came back to this place.

The road is better now, with concreting work almost complete. The trees planted have grown greener and a military post is stationed nearby.

In fact, a new sari-sari store was built around 200 meters away from the mass grave.

Another resident said that the establishment of a 1,500-hectare cavendish banana plantation in the massacre complex has lured many farmers to stay here and make a living in Barangay Salman.

The local government of Ampatuan town wanted to change the image of this parcel land from a very gloomy history to an economic Halal hub complex.

But some families of the victims are worried.

Glen Salaysay, youngest son of Cotabato-based media worker Napoleon Salaysay who was one of the 32 reporters killed, lamented that the case will likely still be unresolved at the end of the term of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

Glen is now working as regular employee at the provincial capitol of Maguindanao. He was hired after his graduation four years ago and granted plantilla position last year.

What saddens him is the dispute between the private prosecutors of Governor Esmael Mangudadatu and the public prosecutors headed by Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III over accusations of bribery and alleged attempts at sabotaging the case, which Baraan vehemently denied.

“Until when are we going to wait for the judgment? It’s been five years now and still I ask in my mind, will justice really work in this country? It’s been so slow, hopefully the DOJ (Department of Justice) is still with us,” he said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who just recently took over as head of the government prosecution panel, could not guarantee a conviction by 2016 but assured that efforts of the prosecution are toward achieving conviction even just for the principal accused members of the Ampatuan family.

Mangudadatu has appealed to the bickering parties of both government and private prosecution panels to talk and settle their quarrels, which he said has benefitted the defense panel.

“It might affect our case. The defense panel could use the prosecutor’s squabble to their advantage, so I appeal to both panels to talk and settle once and for all the misunderstanding because at the end, we the victims are at a disadvantage here,” Mangudadatu said.

Mangudadatu stressed he is confident now that De Lima is heading the prosecution panel, although he admits there is delay. He, however, said he prefers a slow pace.

“Slowly but surely. We don’t want to fall wrong here or else everything will be lost,” Mangudadatu stressed, adding that he is still willing to wait.

The National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) has schedule a visit to the massacre site on August 21 to light candles and offer prayers as part of the fifth year commemoration of the Maguindanao Massacre.

The activity, themed “Five years without justice,” will highlight ending impunity against the media.