MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 18 Nov) — Exasperated by the slow wheels of justice, the families of the victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre here of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, burned here on Sunday afternoon the tarpaulins bearing photographs of three principal suspects to decry the failure of the court to render a ruling nine years later.
Calling for a guilty verdict, the families of the victims set on fire at the foot of the massacre marker th tarpaulins of the siblings Andal Jr., Zaldy and Sajid Ampatuan.
In 2009, Ampatuan Jr. was the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, Sajid was Vice Governor and later Acting Governor of Maguindanao and Zaldy was governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Ahead of the 9th anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre on November 23, some 200 family members of the victims and press organizations such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Philippine Press Institute and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility gathered today at the massacre site to offer a mass and light candles at the graveyard where the victims were unearthed.
Elliber Cablitas, whose wife Marites was among the victims, decried the slow grind of justice.
“For the ninth year, we are here again to remember them and feel the pain. It’s been too long already but we are still searching for justice because nobody has been convicted,” he told MindaNews in Cebuano.
Elliber’s wife, Marites, who worked at the General Santos-based News Focus and radtio station DXDX, was among the 32 media workers who joined the convoy led by the wife of then Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in the next town, Shariff Aguak , to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao province. Ampatuan, Jr., was set to file his COC for governor.
The convoy was flagged down along the highway in Barangay Kauran, Ampatuan, Maguindanao by some 100 armed men allegedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Ampatuan.
At gunpoint, they were ordered to turn left towards Sitio Salman in Barangay Masalay where they were massacred, their bodies dumped in three mass gravesites.
Cablitas urged the court to already come out with a ruling involving the principal suspects as waiting for the trial of about 200 other suspects to be completed would take the court “an eternity to resolve.”
The families of the victims want to see even just a partial resolution of the case involving the principal accused as the trial for the rest continues, he added.
Early this month, Ampatuan’s Jr.’s defense team filed a formal offer of evidence, bringing the case closer to ruling.
The prosecution had filed their formal offer of evidence in 2013 to convict Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons., according to an earlier report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism .
The Ampatuan patriarch succumbed to liver cancer in July 2015.
Andal Jr. and Zaldy are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Sajid was allowed to post bail in 2015 after spending five years in jail. He is facing other falsification, graft and malversation charges.
Fr. Ariel Destora, who officiated the mass for the second time now, said the Catholic church continues to pray for justice to the victims.
The Ampatuan Massacre was considered the worst election-related killing in Philippine history and the single deadliest attack against media workers in the world.
Mangudadatu, who is running for a seat in Congress in next year’s mid-term elections, is now on his third and last term as governor.
He is set to lead the rites for the 9th anniversary of the gruesome killings on Friday, November 23, at the massacre site. (Bong S. Sarmiento/MindaNews)