Ampatuan massacre orphans rejoice ‘not total victory’; can’t forgive perpetrators yet

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 19 Dec) – A hundred children and kin of the media workers killed in the Ampatuan massacre a decade ago rejoiced here Thursday “but not with total victory” after hearing the guilty verdict handed down to the key suspects of the grisly manslaughter.

Children of some of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre give their reaction to the verdict of the case on Thursday (19 December 2019) in General Santos City. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The court found Andal Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town, and brother Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, guilty for 57 counts of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison without parole.

“We are happy on the conviction of the key suspects … but sad that Sajid was acquitted,” said Ronie Perante Jr., son of the slain Gold Star Daily correspondent Ronie Perante.

Sajid Ampatuan, who did not attend the promulgation, was the elected vice governor of Maguindanao at the time of the massacre. Sajid, who is also facing corrupted charges, is out on bail.

“I am happy the major suspects were convicted, but it’s hard to accept that others were acquitted… All the 197 suspects should have been convicted,” said Xhandi Morales, daughter of Russel Morales of News Focus.

Forty-three suspects were found guilty while 56 others were acquitted. Of the 43, 28 were given a sentence of reclusion perpetua (40 years) without parole and 15 others sentenced to six to 10 years as accessories to the crime.

Xhandi said she could not forgive those who perpetrated the brutal murders even if they have been found guilty.

Kung gusto nila makuha ang pagpatawad, paghirapan nila. Mahirap ang magpatawad, pero hindi kami magpabaon sa galit (If they want to be forgiven, they should work on it. It’s not easy to forgive, but we won’t harbor hatred),” she stressed.

The showing of the live coverage of the promulgation, which was arranged by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, was not fully seen by the orphans and their kin because instead of a giant television screen, organizers used an internet connection.

Families of some of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre gather in General Santos City to watch the live broadcast of the verdict of the case on Thursday (19 December 2019). MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

There was also no mass as earlier announced but only a short prayer at the Saint Paul of the Cross Novitiate.

June Colleen Maravilla, 24, eldest daughter of slain Bombo Radyo reporter Bart Maravilla, said they have waited too long for judgment day to come.

“There are strong evidences against the principal accused Ampatuans but it still took that long for justice to be rendered,” she said.

Together with her four siblings and about 50 other family members of the other slain media victims, June Colleen took an absence from her work at the South Cotabato provincial jail to witness the showing of the live coverage of the promulgation at the novitiate.

She was only 14 years old when the November 23, 2009 massacre stole away their father – who both acted as their daddy and mommy at the same time because their mother was working abroad then.

Because of the threats to their lives, the Maravilla siblings, whose youngest then was three years old, were forced to leave Koronadal City and stayed with their relatives in the Visayas.

June Colleen noted the threats came after their mother Ivy refused bribe offers, in the millions of pesos, allegedly from the Ampatuan camp, to withdraw from the case.

The backhoe used to bury the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre is parked inside the Police Regional Office 12 in General Santos City. Photo taken Thursday (19 December 2019) by MANMAN DEJETO / MindaNews

“If we accepted the bribe offer, we will not be here today to witness the promulgation with our fellow orphans,” she said.

The children and other kin of the slain media workers wore black shirts printed with the words “It’s been 10 years. Do not let the story die with them #fightfor58. Ampatuan massacre”

The verdict came more than 10 years after the massacre that killed 58 people, including 32 media workers.

At least 197 persons have been charged with the grisly manslaughter, considered the worst election-related violence in the country and the single deadliest attack against media workers in the world.

The massacre’s principal suspects also included former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who died from an illness while in custody.

Esmael Mangudadatu, then vice mayor of Buluan town, challenged the Ampatuan’s grip on power. That fateful day, he sent his wife Genalyn and several female family members to file his certificate of candidacy for governor. The slain media workers were there to cover the filing. The other victims included civilians who passed by the wrong time.

Andal Ampatuan Jr., principal suspect, is mobbed by reporters at the General Santos City Airport on 26 November 2009 during his arrest, three days after the massacre. MindaNews file photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

Mangudadatu eventually won the gubernatorial race and served for three terms. He is now the second district representative of Maguindanao.

Of the arrested suspects, 90 have been detained while 11 have been released on bail.

Eight suspects had died, including the Ampatuan patriarch.

Eighty suspects remained at large. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)