GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines — When Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 in Quezon City released its verdict on Thursday, the children of the Ampatuan massacre victims knew that they will be facing another journey after enduring one during the last 10 years.
The court handed guilty verdicts on the three primary suspects Zaldy Ampatuan, Sajid Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan Jr. who were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the killing of 57 people.
Also found guilty were 28 co-accused, including police officers were also convicted of 57 counts of murder and sentenced to 40 years, 15 were sentenced to 6-10 years for being accessories to the crime.
Jhanchiene Maravilla, daughter of slain radio broadcaster Bart Maravilla, had mixed emotions over the court’s decision.
“I am happy that the court decided to punish the Ampatuans with a guilty verdict. Somehow this brings justice to our family that we have been longing for, for the longest time,” said Jhanchiene.
Jhanchiene is one of many children who suffered traumatized by the massacre in the past 10 years.
When their father was killed in the massacre, they were only minors and were left with nothing. The Maravilla siblings had to endure the pain of losing their father and the difficulty to needing to survive every day.
“Going back on how we suffered a lot after losing our father, it made me think that it is unfair to just send them to prison while many of us here cried over the death of our parents,” she added.
The children regularly visited the massacre site every November to remember their loved ones.
They hear the agony of each member of the families that recalls the brutal killing of 58 individuals in a single day. With their young minds, they have come to understand the difficulty of their situation after the massacre.
Xhandi Morales, daughter of Russel Morales of News Focus, could not contain her anger over the court’s decision after learning that many suspects were acquitted by the court “due to lack of probable cause”.
“No amount of conviction can bring my father back. But knowing that they were punished by what they did somehow ease our sadness,” Xhandi said.
However, Xhandi cannot forgive all the suspects for killing her father and the remaining 57 victims of the massacre even if some of them were found guilty.
“I cannot forgive someone who killed my father knowing that even in prison they have the chance to be with their family while I can’t even hug my father and celebrate Christmas with him and my whole family. I cannot forgive them,” Xhandi said.
She pointed out that the orphans and those who participated in the massacre have different situations. For her, forgiveness would take time.
“For example, Zaldy Ampatuan was allowed by the court to attend his daughter’s wedding while we cannot do that. We will miss papa in all our family occasions, like my birthdays and graduations. We cannot hug him, we cannot do things that a usual family does especially during Christmas. That’s how unfair our situation is, and they expected forgiveness?” Xhandi added.
Zaldy Ampatuan secured a court order August last year allowing him to leave the jail facility to attend his daughter’s wedding in Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila in Pasay City.
Forgiveness is also impossible to give, said Ronnie Perante Jr., son of a tabloid reporter and Ampatuan massacre victim Ronnie Sr.
While he was happy to know that the primary suspects of the massacre were found guilty, he was also shocked to learn that many suspects were acquitted.
“They took my father’s life, they should be killed,” said Ronnie Jr., when asked if can forgive those who killed his father.
He was only eight years old while his younger brother was still in her mother’s womb when the massacre happened. Just like other orphans, the Perante siblings also endured the difficulties of life while growing up without a father.
“How can I give forgiveness to those who took my father’s life? He left us young, while my mother took all the responsibility for us to survive. What if this will also happen to their family? What if they were the ones killed?” he added.
Fear of Safety
During the past decade, the National Union of Journalist of the Philippines (NUJP) noted several efforts to intimidate the families and witnesses of the Ampatuan massacre.
The orphans said they feared for their security, knowing that several suspects accused of having involvement in the massacre were acquitted by the court.
Jhanchiene expressed fear of possible retaliation once they will be freed.
“I fear for our safety because they can do things to harm us. They have done this before, no doubt that they can do this again. This time it’s the families who fought for this case,” Jhanchiene added.
Other orphans also worry about their safety. They fear for possible attacks against them not only of those acquitted suspects but also with the families of those guilty individuals. They also fear that the situation may affect their daily activities like what they experienced in the past.
“I worry that anytime someone will just attack me and my younger brother or my mother now that the court allows them to go out of jail,” said Ronnie Jr.
Continuous Fight for Justice
“We will continue to fight for justice. Even if we are young, even if we are small no one can silence us,” said Xhandi.
After hearing the verdict of the court, Xhandi said the quest for justice is not yet done. She said the partial victory only encourages them to assert what the families deserve in the long-overdue trial of Ampatuan massacre case.
“We wanted an all-conviction to every suspect that has direct and indirect participation in the massacre. That is all they deserve after killing our parents,” said Xhandi.
Ronnie Jr. also said that they will continue to seek justice even after the court released its decision.
“I would like to ask the people, the media, the church and those who supported us in our journey to continue supporting us. We are young, our group is small and we cannot do this alone. Please help us because we are not done, the war is not yet over,” Ronnie Jr. (davaotoday.com)