MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews/23 November) – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima attended the commemoration of the massacre that took place here five years ago, announcing “good news” as well as “bad news” on the case in a 20-minute prepared speech.
The bloodbath claimed 58 lives, including those of 32 media workers who went with the convoy of then Buluan, Maguindanao vice mayor and now Governor Esmael Mangudadatu to cover the filing of his certificate of candidacy in Shariff Aguak town.
“I have been here four times, and every time I come here, I have mixed emotions. So much sadness, so much anger,” de Lima said in mixed English and Filipino.
“But don’t worry, I am here to deliver a message of hope. I will never give up sa laban na ‘to (in this fight),” she added drawing applause from the audience.
The secretary’s update started with the “bad news” that 41 police officers were granted bail by the Quezon City Trial Court Branch 221.
“The good news is that, they have to raise P200,000 for each murder case. Eh 58 counts, that means each one of them has to raise 11.6 million pesos para temporary silang makalaya (for their temporary liberty),” says de Lima drawing cheers from the crowd.
“And any police officer who could raise that amount should create suspicions! We will have them investigated,” she added.
“Bad news, potential witness Dennis Sakal was killed just recently, but it’s also good news that Dicay’s petition for bail was denied last November 21,” she said.
De Lima was referring to former Maguindanao provincial police deputy director Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay, who is accused of helping set up the checkpoints that allowed gunmen to stop the convoy of the Mangudadatus.
Mangudadatu had sent his wife and other relatives to file his certificate of candidacy.
“The role of Dicay as testified by the prosecution witnesses was vital and instrumental. During the meeting called by the Ampatuans, witnesses testified that Dicay actively participated in the planning of the massacre, particularly on the installation of checkpoints to flag down the Mangudadatu convoy in order to kill them. Dicay, together with Andal Jr. was also seen shooting the victims on the ground,” de Lima said.
She also reminded law enforcement agencies to arrest nine members of the Ampatuan clan and 12 uniformed men who are still on the run.
She said they should be arrested on sight, adding that their apprehension is a matter of national security.
“Definitely, this case of the century will not take a century to finish,” she added.
Mangudadatu lauded de Lima’s effort in updating the families of the victims.
“It’s good that the Secretary had explained the status of the case because many of the relatives of the victims have become discouraged,” the governor told MindaNews.
Still waiting for support
Jergin Malabanan, daughter of Saksi News reporter Gina dela Cruz said that, “while I’m happy to hear what the secretary said, I hope the government will also fulfill their promise of supporting us.”
“They promised to look after us, but since 2012 we have not received any financial assistance forcing two of my siblings to stop schooling,” Malabanan added.
At least 500 people joined the commemoration in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in this town, site of the grisly massacre which is considered the bloodiest political violence in recent history, and which de Lima called the “crime of the century.”
Pickup trucks, vans, military trucks, SUVs, motorcycles and bikes filled about a third of the 3-kilometer road leading to the massacre site. An all-terrain vehicle owned by a local politician was also in the site, a stark contrast to the 15-vehicle convoy of journalists, media workers and relatives of the victims who visited the site two days earlier.
Five Simba vehicles of the Armed Forces of the Philippines were also deployed in strategic locations as part of the security detail for “VIPs”. Five CCTVs were installed at the perimeter of the covered hall.
Bike for Peace
The program started with a 40-man team of bikers from the AFP, Philippine National Police and civil society organizations organized by Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao assemblyman Khadafi Mangudadatu riding from crossing Salvo to the massacre site.
When asked for his personal observation on the trial, the assemblyman told Mindanews that he found it slow. “But I am hoping it would be given justice before the term of the President ends.”
“That’s why Justice Secretary de Lima will be arriving later to give an update,” he added.
While waiting for de Lima’s party to arrive, the crowd was entertained by local performers, including Malabanan.
Malabanan’s voice turned husky as tears fell down her cheeks while singing her mother’s favorite song, Usok by Asin. As she struggled to finish her song, the master of ceremony announced the arrival of de Lima and Gov. Mangudadatu. (Toto Lozano/MindaNews)