AMPATUAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 23 Nov) – Maguindanao and Malacañang officials are convinced the culprits in the country’s worst election related violence will be convicted and that justice is coming.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, Presidential Communications chief Martin Andanar and Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) director Undersecretary Joel Egco were all optimistic and they showed it during their visit Thursday in Barangay Masalay here, the site where 58 persons, including 32 media workers, were mercilessly killed.
The three officials and relatives of the slain journalists offered prayers, hoping that the main culprits will be convicted.
Egco said two witnesses were about to recant their testimonies but the attempt was not pushed through,” Egco told reporters.
“We are looking until March next year. There will be conviction. After nine years we are seeing the light of the tunnel,” he added.
“It is really the symbol of how our laws were violated. Impunity was so much in the land last time… kaya nga andito tayo. It only means that the President is showing his utmost support sa victims ng massacre at suporta sa press freedom,” Andanar said.
Mangudadatu was elated Andanar and Egco came over.
“This is very historic because taga Malacañang na mismo ang naririto,” Mangudadatu said. “There is hope really under President Duterte’s administration that we will get justice that has been delayed for so long.”
Egco stressed that the Duterte administration is determined to protect the members of the media. “With the creation of PTFoMS, it clearly shows the President’s concern for journalists,” Egco said.
Andanar also reminded journalists of President Duterte’s Executive Order No. 1 that focuses on protection of members of the press.
Early this week, a group of journalists also visited the massacre site, offered prayers and set ablaze giant portraits printed on tarpaulin of the suspects in the carnage.
“Justice is long overdue,” said Emily Lopez, chair of Justice Now Movement, an association of relatives of slain journalists in the Maguindanao massacre.
During a regional forum on media safety and security in General Santos City on Friday, Egco reiterated his belief that that the suspects will be convicted.
At least 197 suspects had been charged with multiple murder in connection with the massacre led by the late Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Jr., former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy and former Maguindanao acting governor Sajid Islam.
The elder Ampatuan died in prison while the cases against Andal Jr. and the other principal suspects are now up for resolution by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes following the conclusion of the trial last Nov. 5.
Egco said he expects that all principal suspects will get a conviction of all the charges, otherwise “I will just file my resignation.”
Should the Ampatuan brothers get away from the case, he said there’s no use for him to remain in his post, adding that he will just return to farming and media work.
Before joining the government in 2016, Egco was an editor and chief of reporters of The Manila Times.
“We expect a conviction, no less. Justice, no less. That’s how confident I am with this case and I hope that it will happen,” he said.
Egco said that during their visit to the massacre site on Thursday, Andanar retraced what happened during the incident, starting from the national highway intersection in Sitio Masalay where the convoy of vehicles carrying the victims were initially flagged down.
Family members of then Buluan, Maguindanao vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and media workers from General Santos and nearby areas were on their way to the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak town to file his certificate of candidacy for governor. (Ferdinandh Cabrera, with reports / MindaNews)