BULUAN, Maguindanao – School children, in their colorful parade garb, marched and danced to the beat and rhythm of drum and lire band, as this town celebrated the 39th foundation of Maguindanao.
Each town had their representative to the annual event, which is being held in Buluan, the town where Governor Esmael ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu holds office.
This is a week-long event to celebrate their province's history, which includes nightly shows in the town's gym, featuring stand-up comedians and showbiz celebrities from Manila.
But for some, this date does not bring to mind the colorful and loud celebration, but the grim experience they had three years ago.
Tomorrow is the third year since the Maguindanao massacre happened in the town of Ampatuan in 2009. Those who lost a mother, wife, husband, son, daughter, brother or sister, opted not to join Thursday morning's parade and spent their time instead visiting the graves of their loved ones.
At a small lot, the graves of five people killed in the 2009 massacre lie beside the river. Moving with reluctance, families approached the grave, while trying to hide under their hankies their muffled cries and teary eyes. Silence prevailed as each one of them looked down at the grave.
One of them, Lumangal Sabdullah, started to pull out foot-long weeds that have grown on the grave. Sabdullah says the weed is symbolic of the years that have taken the Maguindanao massacre case. They feel that nothing has happened to the case for the past three years.
"Bukas, 3 years na ang kaso, mayroon pang isang principal accused na hindi pa rin na-arraign ngayon," said Sabdullah.
There is also the 25-year-old son who lost his father to the massacre, Glenn Salaysay, son of Napoleon Salaysay, a reporter of the Mindanao-based Clear View Gazette, who was among the journalists killed.
Glenn feels that victims like him are getting the shorter end of justice, with some of the accused still on the loose while those who were arrested have yet to be arraigned.
There is evidence and the accused are already arrested but Glenn wants to know why it is still taking the court too long.
"Kay Judge Solis po, sana po, maawa naman po kayo sa amin, wala naman kaming kalaban-laban. Sabihin na nating mayaman sila, porke't mahirap lang kami, wala na ba kaming laban?" said Glenn, as his voice cracked while trying to hold back his tears.
Glenn also made an appeal to President Benigno Aquino to fulfill his promise of helping the victims’ families achieve justice in the Maguindanao massacre case.