DAVAO CITY, Philippines – The families of victims of the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre felt offended and dismayed after learning that the court allowed former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Zaldy Ampatuan to attend his eldest daughter’s wedding.
In a phone interview with Emily Lopez of Justice Now Movement, a group of families of the media victims, said they are offended with the recent court decision. The furlough allows Ampatuan to enjoy his liberty without public knowledge.
As the families asked the court for a speedy trial, Lopez said it instead prioritised the personal interest of the suspect which she branded to be “unfair”.
“We consider it a slap to our face and a clear betrayal of the court to us who seek justice for a long time,” Lopez said, adding the court should work to hasten the investigation so that perpetrators will be sent behind bars.
Ampatuan was identified to be one of the individuals who masterminded the infamous Maguindanao massacre in 2009. The incident is the single deadliest media killing which claimed the lives of 58 people, most of whom were journalists.
On the evening of August 21, video and photos of Zaldy Ampatuan was posted on Facebook by Tawi-Tawi Representative Ruby Sahali with caption: “Alhamdulillah with my former Boss Former RG Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan during the wedding ceremony of his eldest daughter Bai Nur Aila.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) also expressed concern after Ampatuan was allowed to leave detention to attend a social event on Tuesday, August 21, 2018.
In a statement posted on their social media account, the NUJP also questioned the court for allowing the accused enjoy a privilege.
“We all know that most people accused of lesser offences almost never get to enjoy a privilege as that granted Zaldy Ampatuan. What made him an exception to the rule?,” the media watchdog asked.
“Surely, his camp would have had to petition the court well in advance. Where were the state prosecutors in all this? Did they contest the petition? Perhaps, more importantly, did they even inform the families of the victims and other parties to the case? At the very least, the prosecution owes the public a full account and credible explanation.”
When asked on how they viewed the current status of the case, Lopez said that the families are now worried if justice would really be served.
Lopez said that before Zaldy Ampatuan enjoyed his temporary freedom, the court also granted the petition for bail to Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan in March 2015 after paying P200, 000 which they see as “pampering the suspects and prioritising their interests.”
They also expressed doubts for a fair trial after then-president now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is back in power. Lopez said the families knew that Arroyo was the staunchest allies of the Ampatuans back in 2009.
“We are certain that it will affect the process of the trial and eventually the court’s decision,” said Lopez.
Back in November 2017, President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre that justice will be delivered the “soonest possible time.”
He also promised to provide assistance to the kin of the slaughtered journalists but Lopez said that “these promises became elusive as they are still suffering from injustices and government neglect.”(davaotoday.com)