Ampatuan Massacre site access restricted but to open Nov. 19-23 for 12th anniversary commemoration

A military outpost was set up in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao to restrict unauthorized entry to the massacre site in Sitio Masalay. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 16 Nov) – The restricted access to the Ampatuan Massacre site in Maguindanao province, where 58 individuals were brutally killed in 2009, including 32 media workers, will be eased for the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the infamous manslaughter on November 23, a local official said.

Bai Najma Hassana Biruar, chairperson of Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, said the Municipal Peace and Order Council (MPOC) decided to open the massacre site in Sitio Masalay to visitors from November 19 to 23.

“Pwede na po umakyat sa site, sundin lang po natin ang health and security protocols. Mag face mask at mag-log book lang po bago pumasok,” she told MindaNews in a text message late Monday afternoon.

According to her, the visiting hours to the massacre site would be from “9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” as decided during the MPOC meeting, which was attended by local government officials and police and military officers.

Before proceeding to the massacre site, Biruar said that visitors can register at an outpost that would be set up along the road, to be manned by a Barangay Peace Action Team.

Last week, MindaNews tried to enter the massacre site but was prevented from proceeding by soldiers belonging to the 63rd Mechanized Infantry (Sanggalang) Company of the 6th Mechanized Infantry (Salaknib) Battalion Armor (Pambato) Division of the Philippine Army.

Local authorities established an advance command post where a pole barricade was mounted to restrict entry to the massacre site

Troops manning the post advised MindaNews to seek permission first from the barangay government.

Biruar told MindaNews then to first give them a few days of notice prior to visiting so that the troops can clear the area.

“We closed the massacre site to those without prior notice due to security concerns,” she said.

The massacre site has been restricted to visitors in the past several months with the sightings and harassment of armed men allegedly belonging to the Dawla Islamiya, an Islamic State-inspired terror group.

Besides the Army’s advance command post, another detachment has been deployed in the periphery of the massacre site.

Just like last year, the families of the media victims will not visit the massacre site this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It had been their tradition to visit the massacre site days ahead of the massacre’s anniversary to pay their respects to their loved ones.

In a statement signed by Emily Lopez and Grace Morales, chairperson and secretary general, respectively, of the Justice Now Movement, said they agreed not to hold the commemoration at the massacre site this year due to the pandemic.

The Justice Now Movement is the association of families of the media workers killed in the Ampatuan Massacre.

The commemoration for the 12th anniversary will be held in General Santos City on November 20 in partnership with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Coalition, Lopez and Morales said.

The duo slammed individuals who introduced themselves as media men and who allegedly have been soliciting money to support the commemoration activity this year.

“We have not authorized anyone to do that,” they said in Filipino.

The Ampatuan Massacre was touted as the worst election-related violence in the Philippines and the single deadliest attack against the working press in the world.

Several members of the Ampatuan clan were accused of masterminding the gory massacre. These included the clan patriarch, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. who died in captivity in 2015 due to illness; and siblings Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town; and Anwar Ampatuan, former mayor of Shariff Aguak town.

Then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu sent his wife Bai Genalin Mangudadatu to file his certificate of candidacy for governor, challenging the reign of the Ampatuans. Her convoy, which included the media workers who were there to cover the event, were flagged down and herded to Sitio Masalay where they were brutally killed. Several civilians who were there at the wrong time were among those massacred. The perpetrators tried to hide the grisly crime by burying the victims in freshly dug graves, which were discovered through an aerial inspection of the area.

During the 11th anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre last year, Mangudadatu and his supporters held an activity at the massacre site to pay their respects to the victims.

For this year, he said in a text message that they will also hold a commemoration activity at the massacre site on Nov 23.

In December 2019, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 in Quezon City found some of the accused Ampatuans and several others guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the 2009 massacre.

Reyes ordered Andal Jr., Zaldy and Anwar and 25 other principals who were found guilty to pay the heirs of 57 victims a total of 155.5 million pesos for civil indemnity; moral, exemplary, temperate and actual damages; and loss of earning capacity.

The Ampatuans had appealed the court’s verdict. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)