Judgment day on Ampatuan Massacre: December 19

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 03 December) – The promulgation of judgment on the Ampatuan Massacre of 2009 has been set for Thursday, December 19, 2019, exactly 10 years and 26 days after the killing of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, Presiding Judge of Regional Trial Court Branch 221, in an order dated November 29 but circulated on Monday, set the promulgation at 9 a.m. at the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig.

Children of the media victims in the infamous Ampatuan massacre 10 years ago continue to cry for justice as they visited the massacre site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao on Sunday (17 November 2019). MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

“Pamaskong Handog para sa mga naulila ng Maguindanao Massacre… sarap lumipad pauwi at masaksihan ang hatol” (A Christmas gift for those orphaned in the Maguindanao Massacre… hoping to fly to witness the judgment), said nurse Reynafe Momay-Castillo, whose father, Reynaldo, photographer of Midland Courier in Tacurong City, was among the media victims.

Reynafe had to fight for her father to be included as the 58th victim as his remains were never found, only his dentures at the massacre site and his name on a list of media who joined the convoy, found in the sock of one of the victims.

Mary Grace Morales, whose husband Rosell, a reporter of News Focus, and her sister, Marites Cablitas, a reporter of radio DXBX, were among the victims, told MindaNews on Monday that she hopes all the principal suspects are convicted.

“Ang pinaka-justice gyud nga sila tanan ma-convict ug dili na sila maka-appeal pa sa higher court” (The real justice is when all of them will be convicted and they won’t appeal to the higher court), Morales said.

But she also hopes that the accessories or those police personnel who were assigned only during that day — November 23, 2009 — be acquitted.

Fifty-eight persons were killed, 32 of them from the media, when armed men reportedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., flagged down the convoy of six vehicles from the camp of then vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, along the highway, as they were on their way to the next town, Shariff Aguak, to file the latter’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 stopped at gunpoint shortly before noon and diverted towards Masalay, at the foothills of Daguma Range.

Andal Jr., intended to run for governor unopposed, as his father, three-term governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., did, in 2007.

No one would have known what happened as the intent was apparently to bury not only the bodies of the victims but also the other evidences, including the vehicles. But soldiers and a helicopter owned by the Mangudadatus reached the massacre site at around 3 p.m.

By then, some of the bodies and vehicles had been buried. The first day body count was shocking. The death toll rose by the day until the diggings ended on the third day.

It was the worst election-related violence in the country’s history and the “single deadliest attack on journalists the world over.”

Ten years after the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, justice has remained elusive. MINDANEWS PHOTO

Aside from Andal Ampatuan, Jr., also charged were his father, the former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr.; his brothers Zaldy, then on his second term as Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Anwar, then mayor of Shariff Aguak town, and Sajid Islam, who was elected Vice Governor of Maguindanao in 2007; brother in law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr. and his sons Saudi Jr. and Bahnarin; and first cousins Nords and Akmad.

A total of 196 persons were charged with 58 counts of murder. Around 80 of them are still at large.

Sajid was freed on bail in early 2015 after paying 11.6 million pesos, at 200,000 pesos for each count of murder. Several other policemen were granted bail but could not afford the amount.

The Ampatuan patriarch succumbed to liver cancer on July 17, 2015. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)