GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 19 December) – Ronie “Nono” Perante III is turning 10 on February 18 next year, born three months after his father, Ronie Perante, Sr., correspondent of Gold Star Daily, died along with 57 others, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
“Unta mudaug” (I hope we will win), Nono told MindaNews at the St. Paul of the Cross Pastoral Center where he, his elder brother, Ronie Perante, Jr. or RonRon, his grandmother Estrella Genton and around 40 other relatives of media victims of the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, gathered to watch the promulgation of judgment aired live from the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan in Taguig City.
While waiting for the verdict to be handed down on Thursday morning, Nono said he hopes they would win the case. He cannot explain what he means by “daug” (win) and still has a vague sense of what justice means, a word he has repeatedly heard spoken by his elders. But he repeatedly said “unta mudaug.”
The families, however, were unable to cheer or applaud whatever victory they had won – “partial justice” – they would later say, because when the verdict was read, they did not hear who were convicted as the airing suffered technical problems.
Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 221-Quezon City, found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for murder on 57 counts Andal Ampatuan Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town, leader of the armed men who killed the victims; 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, former mayor of Mamaspano town and his sons Saudi Jr. and Bahnarin; and first cousins Nords and Akmad.
The court did not consider Reynaldo Momay, photographer of Midland Review in Tacurong as the 58th murder victim because “whether Momay died or was missing” after November 23, 2009 “could not be ascertained as no evidence of his actual death was adduced. He has no cadaver and neither was his death certificate presented on record.”
Sajid was freed on bail in early 2015 after paying 11.6 million pesos, at 200,000 pesos for each count of murder.
Sajid and Akmad Ampatuan were acquitted on grounds of reasonable doubt. But the judge gave Sajid five days to explain why he should not be cited for contempt for not attending the promulgation, despite notice.
A total of 43 were convicted and 56 acquitted.
Lawyers of the convicted Ampatuans manifested they would file a motion for reconsideration.
Before the promulgation, the 18-year old Ronron told MindaNews he was aware that whoever gets convicted would likely file a motion for reconsideration and if denied, appeal the decision. If the Court of Appeals affirms the decision of the lower court, the next recourse would be to appeal to the Supreme Court.
“Kabalo ko maghulat na pud mi pero dili lang ta mawad-an ug paglaum. Maghulat gihapon” (I know we will wait again but we should not lose hope. We will wait), Ronron told MindaNews.
“Dili gyud ta magsurrender para pud sa atong pamilya” (Let us not surrender for the sake of our families), said Ronron, who was eight when his father died and his mother Merlie, was then six months pregnant.
Like Ronron, 31-year old Rollie Morales is willing to wait a bit more in case of an appeal.
“We will wait. We’re fighting for justice. We will never forget,” he said.
Rollie’s brother, Rosell, the eldest of six siblings, was a reporter of News Focus.
Mary Grace Morales, Rosell’s widow, did not only lose a husband, she also lost a sister — Marites Cablitas, a reporter of radio DXBX.
Mary Grace was in Taguig for the 9 a.m. December 19 promulgation of judgment at the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan. The promulgation began two hours later.
She told MindaNews earlier 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), she said.
Fifty-eight persons were killed, 32 of them from the media, on November 23, 2009 when an estimated hundred armed men led by then Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., stopped a convoy led by Genalyn, wife of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangdudadatu, en route to the next town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, to file his certificate of candidacy for Governor.
Ampatuan, Jr., was going to run for Governor and like his father in 2007, wanted to run unopposed.
It was the worst election-related violent incident in the history of the country and the single deadliest attack in the world against journalists.
A total of 197 persons were charged for the massacre, 80 of them still at large.
According to a report of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the documents of the case involve 165 volumes of records on the trial; 65 records of stenographic notes; eight records of the prosecution’s documentary evidence.
The court also received the testimony of 357 witnesses.
The Ampatuan patriarch, Andal Sr., former three-term governor of Maguindanao who was also charged for the mass murder passed away on July 17, 2015, 42 days after he was admitted at a state-owned hospital in Quezon City for “advanced liver cancer,” and four days after he lapsed into a coma after a massive heart attack. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)