DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 July) – Relatives of the 58 victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao waited for the President to say something about the case in his State of the Nation Address (SONA), as he promised them justice when he assumed post in 2010.
The massacre was mentioned – in fact it was the 12th paragraph out of a 190-paragraph SONA — but it was more about how the previous administration under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, allowed it to happen.
In Filipino, the President said: “Every government official takes an oath to do right by our countrymen and to uphold the law. But it was clear: our predecessor did precisely the opposite. We were all witnesses to the most appalling example, when 58 Filipinos were massacred in Maguindanao in November 2009. To think about committing such a crime was already heinous. To do it, which they did, was even worse. The worst offense of all: Their belief that they could get away with it, because they were in power—which is why they carried out their plans in the first place. These are only a few examples; there are many others.”
Reynafe Momay-Castillo, whose father Reynaldo Momay, a photographer of Midland Courier in Tacurong City, was among the victims, told MindaNews Tuesday that she and other families of the massacre victims are asking “what happened to the President’s promise to give us justice within his administration? What can he do about the case in his last 11 months in office?”
Castillo said the CCTVs that they had requested for placement in the detention center of the Ampatuans have not been installed and unannounced visits not granted even as the Ampatuans are reportedly given special treatment.
A total of 197 persons, including several members of the Ampatuan clan were arrested and detained for the massacre of 58 persons, among them the patriarch, three-term Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.; Andal Ampatuan, Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town; then ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan; then Shariff Aguak mayor Anwar Ampatuan; and the youngest sibling Sajid, who was elected vice governor of his father-governor in 2007.
The 2009 massacre was the worst pre-election related violence in the country’s history.
Andal Sr., succumbed to liver cancer on July 17 at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City. His remains were buried at the back of his mansion in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao early afternoon of July 18.
On November 23, 2010, at the first anniversary rites of the Ampatuan Massacre held at the massacre site, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, read a four-paragraph statement from the then five-month President Aquino, assuring relatives of the victims and the public that the resolution of the cases filed in relation to the massacre “has become the litmus test of our justice system” and that it is “one of the top priorities of the Justice Department.”
“We will not rest until justice has been served,” the President assured.
“Today we again offer our condolences to the families of the victims and vow to do everything in our power to achieve a timely resolution of this case and ensure that this does not happen again,” he said.
Also at the first anniversary, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima assured residents of Maguindanao that they have government’s commitment “to do all that we can” to convince the Supreme Court to allow live coverage of the trial” of the perpetrators of the Ampatuan Massacre, because “what is at trial are not just the accused, but our whole government system.”
“Until and unless justice has truly been done in this case, none of us could truly claim that the Filipino people have managed to reclaim their humanity,” said De Lima, who recalled having been to the site a few days after the massacre, when she was still chair of the Commission on Human Rights, in the company of forensics experts one of whom said the place reminded him of Rwanda.
“Horror of horrors”
The battle to bring those responsible for this “horror of horrors,” she said, is the quest of the entire Filipino people, adding, “we have their (victims’) blood in our collective hands.”
Fifty-eight persons were killed, 32 of them from the media, when armed men reportedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., flagged down the convoy of six vehicles from the camp of then Buluan, Maguindanao vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, along the highway. The convoy was enroute to the Commission on Elections’ provincial office at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak, to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor.
There were 53 of them in the convoy but five other persons in two vehicles that happened to pass at the wrong time, were also stopped at gunpoint and diverted towards Masalay, at the foothills of Daguma Range, where they were killed, some of them buried using the backhoe of the Maguindanao provincial government.
To recall, Andal Jr., had intended to run for governor unopposed, as his father, three-term governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., did in 2007. Mangudadatu was an ally of the Ampatuans until he opted to run for governor.
De Lima said that after the exact magnitude of the atrocities was finally discovered, “we, Filipinos, realized that we just woke up to a world that will never be the same again. Not for the families who lost loved ones on that infamous day, and certainly not for the rest of the Filipino people who were just treated to a shameless display of pure, unadulterated evil.”
She acknowledged the personal loss and sorrow of the families of the victims and the communal loss of the nation. “That day marked, not just the loss of innocence but, sadly, the loss of humanity.”
Fight for your right
Returning to the massacre site in November 2010 as Justice Secretary, De Lima acknowledged the public’s dissatisfaction with the slow progress of the case but assured them that “everything is being done to ensure that this case is handled properly.”
“Rest assured that we will guard this against attempts to delay as well as attempts to sow terror and fear on the witnesses who are vital to success of the prosecution,” she said in Filipino.
She said the Department of Justice will do its best to “fight for your right to witness the proceedings in the case” pending before the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City. “We all need closure. You, Maguindanaons, perhaps more than anyone. We understand that for there to be true and satisfying resolution you must see justice done every step of the way.”
Nearly six years after the massacre and nearly five years after President Aquino’s and Secretary de Lima’s promises, the case remains pending, not one has been convicted.
The Supreme Court has not allowed live coverage of the trial.
Among the Ampatuans charged for the massacre, two are no longer in jail: Sajid, the patriarch’s youngest son and running mate in the 2007 polls, was released on bail on March 9 this year, upon payment of P11.6 million or P200,000 each for the 58 cases of murder; and his father Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who passed away earlier this month.
Of the 197 accused, four have died (two in detention including Ampatuan, Sr.; two at large), while the case against one policeman was dismissed. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)