10 years later, kin still crying for justice for Ampatuan massacre victims

MASSACRE SITE, Ampatuan, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 17 Nov) – Every year in the past 10 years, the families of the victims of the country’s worst election-related violence and the world’s deadliest single attack against media workers would come here to dramatically press their demand for justice.

Family members of the media victims in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre continue to demand for justice as they visited the massacre site on Sunday (17 November 2019). MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

As had been the practice, the families of the media workers, 32 out of 58 victims, would visit the massacre site ahead of the anniversary of the grisly November 23, 2009 manslaughter to also offer prayers, light candles and lay flowers at the markers of the victims.

Some of the families of the media victims would come back on the ill-fated day to join former Maguindanao governor and now Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu to commemorate the massacre.

Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn and several female family members were among the victims after their convoy that was en route to file his certificate of candidacy for governor was stopped and herded to Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town. The media workers were there to cover the filing while the other civilian victims passed by at the wrong time.

On Sunday, six days before the 10th anniversary, justice remained elusive for the victims of the carnage where several of those slain were mangled beyond recognition.

The victims’ children performed a touching play that elicited tears from a crowd of more than a hundred other family members.

“With a few more days before the 10th anniversary of the gruesome crime, we are still crying for justice,” Jhan Chiene Maravilla, daughter of Bombo Radyo Koronadal reporter Bart Maravilla, told MindaNews.

She was only 12 years old when the massacre happened. Now she is a college student.

“I terribly missed Daddy. The lack of justice over such a long time makes it more painful for us,” Jhan Chiene said.

The promulgation was slated on November 20, but Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes asked for a 30-day extension due to the huge volume of testimonies and evidences. The Supreme Court granted the request.

If there would be no changes, the decision should be handed down on or before December 20.

Mangudadatu did not complain on the extension, expressing confidence anew they could get a conviction particularly for the principal suspects.

“We have waited for 10 years. Thirty days is shorter than 10 years of waiting.

I’m sure there is a plausible reason on the request and we yield to the wisdom of the Supreme Court in approving it,” he told MindaNews in a text message.

He said they are “still keep[ing] the faith” that the court would convict the suspects.

The principal suspects include former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who died from an illness while in custody, and his sons Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Andal Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town; and Sajid, former Maguindanao vice governor.

Zaldy and Andal Jr. have been jailed in Taguig City while the case is being heard, while Sajid was freed on bail.

The media victims’ children burned tarpaulins with the photographs of the Ampatuan brothers.

Each picture bore the words “Justice now! Convict Ampatuan. ”

Nonoy Espina, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said they are expecting a guilty conviction, particularly for the principal suspects.

“We should not stop fighting for justice even with a guilty decision. It will still be a long battle,” he said, referring to the right of citizens to appeal a court decision.

Espina said that of the 197 suspects, 80 remain at large. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)