58th victim of Ampatuan Massacre still unaccounted for

Families of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre offer candles at the site of the carnage in Sitio Masalay, Brgy. Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao del Sur on Sunday (Nov. 20, 2022). MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 23 November) —  What happened to Reynaldo Momay, a freelance photographer who was among the 32 media workers who joined the convoy led by family members of then Buluan, Maguindanao vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu on their way to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor on Nov. 23, 2009?

The convoy was flagged down by armed men and all passengers were brought to sitio Masalay, a hilltop village in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao where they were killed and buried in a mass grave.

In her 761-page decision, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Regional Trial Court Branch 221 in Quezon City found Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, his brothers Zaldy and Anwar and 25 other principals guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the massacre and ordered them 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 58th victim, Reynaldo Momay, was not included in the ruling because according to the court, “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,” the court said.

It ruled that since only Momay’s denture was found in the crime scene, it was not established that he was among the victims.

This is why amid cheers from the families of the massacre victims when Judge Reyes handed down the decision, Momay’s daughter Reynafe Castillo and her family remained stoic and silent.

Castillo, who is now based in the United States together with her family, appealed the decision in January 2020.

She said that for years her family could not even light a candle because they did not know if their father was already dead.

She said she has not given up hope of finding his father.

Several of the 300 witnesses told the court that Momay, who worked for the Tacurong City-based Midland Review, was seen with the convoy of 31 other media workers, Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn, other family members and supporters going to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao province on Nov. 23, 2009.

The plan was for Genalyn to file his husband’s candidacy for governor. The reporters and other media workers were there to cover the event.

Court records said a heavily armed Datu Unsay and his alleged private army stopped the convoy along the Isulan-Cotabato City highway in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

Datu Unsay and the armed men allegedly then stripped the victims of their mobile phones.

hey also stopped two other vehicles—a red Toyota Vios and an FX Tamaraw—that were not part of the convoy.

Unsay and his men brought the victims to the hills of Sitio Masalay, some four kilometers from the highway where they killed them, the records said.

The massacre was described as the single bloodiest attack on media workers.

“Every year, I am asked on how am I, how am I moving on after 13 years of seeking justice for my father,” Castillo said.

She said she is now about to give up searching for his father and seeking justice for the sake of her children and future grandchildren.

“It will be 2023 next year, and another year that this case will even drag if nothing can be done. Time seems freezing and justice seems so far away,” she said.

Last Sunday, a group mostly composed of families of the slain media workers visited the massacre site to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the carnage. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)