Ten years of trial, two years after conviction, justice is not yet served for Ampatuan massacre victims

Nov. 23, 2021

Twelve years after the gruesome Ampatuan massacre, families of the slain media workers slam the recent action from the Ampatuans who sought intervention from the government to overrule their conviction.

The Quezon City Court in 2019 have convicted the Ampatuan brothers, Andal ‘Unsay’ Jr and former ARMM Governor Zaldy for the murders of 28 people, including 32 journalists and 26 supporters of Governor Esmael ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu in what is considered the most brutal journalist killing on November 23, 2009.

The families, who waited through ten years to hear the conviction, said they are worried of recent news from their lawyer Attorney Nena Santos, who said the Ampatuans have appealed to the Office of the President the Department of Justice to overturn the decision of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

The families are afraid that if the government reopens the case, it may mean they will take “a long and painstaking journey” for another decade before they can find justice.

“It’s like ginatorture mi makapila ka beses kay taas na kaayo among pag-asa nga masilutan na ug mapatubag na sa batas ang mga nipatay nila. Pero karon nga nakabalo mi nga naa pud silay effort, gigamit nila ilang power ug kwarta, nagpatabang pa sila sa presidente, murag napalong gamay ang among pag-laom nga makuha namo agad ang hustiya para sa amoa,” said Grace Morales, secretary general of Justice Now Movement, who lost both her husband Rusell, a reporter of NewsFocus, and her sister Marites Cablitas, reporter of DXBX.

(It’s like we are tortured many times over because we have waited for so long hoping those who killed our loved ones will be punished under the law. But now that we know they are using their effort, their power and money, to seek help from the president, it’s like our hopes are dimmed that justice will come.)

The families gathered on Saturday for mass and visited the graves of their loved ones in Forest Lake Cemetery in General Santos City.

Justice Now hopes the public and the media will continue to support their cause.

The families said they did now cower in the past 12 years because of the support of media organizations including the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

“Manghinaot gihapon mi nga dili mi ninyo byaan sa amoang laban. Tungod sa suporta sa media ug ubang mga organisasyon maong naa gihapon mi karon, (We still hope that you will not abandon us in our fight. Because of the support of media and other organizations we are still here.)” Morales said.

Morales added that what they have is “partial justice” as the court did not recognize the 58th victim, journalist Reynaldo Momay, who disappeared in that incident. Justice Now and NUJP are appealing to include Momay in the case.

The Ampatuans have been convicted along with 80 other members of their private army. Of the 80 convicted, only five have been arrested, and the rest remain in hiding.

‘Do not use us’

But the families also call out media groups and politicians who have exploited their issue.

Emily Lopez, chair of Justice Now, was shock that a media group based in Cagayan de Oro was soliciting funds for an event marking the massacre.

She clarified that this group did not coordinate with Justice Now.

Lopez warned the group to stop “if they have delicadeza”, saying their solicitation campaign is an “insult” to the families and victims.

She added that Justice Now has not ever solicited money as all activities were done through the efforts of NUJP.

Justice Now also advised candidates to refrain from using the families for their campaign as they had experienced this in the past.

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