MANILA - The victims who were killed in Maguindanao 8 years ago gave up their lives to restore democracy in the province, a lawyer whose father and sister were among those who died said Thursday.
Catalino Oquendo Jr. and Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon were two of 57 found massacred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
Maria Gemma Oquendo, their daughter and sister, respectively, who is now a private prosecutor in the murder trial, said this tragic event, where 32 media practitioners and supporters of then-gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu, established democracy in Maguindanao, which used to be a stronghold of the powerful Ampatuan family.
"My sister and my father, along with media people and innocent passers-by, gave their lives so that democracy would be established again," she told ANC's Early Edition.
"Prior to that, nobody could be a candidate in that election unless you would be approved by the Ampatuans. Apparently, this gubernatorial candidate was not approved by them, so he was attempted to be prevented by this kind of activity, of this tragic event," she said.
"Now, anyone who wants to be a candidate in the election could file their candidacy freely. That's how I want them to be remembered," she added.
Nena Santos, a private prosecutor, said the clout of the Ampatuan clan has lessened since the massacre occurred, with new candidates surfacing and winning local elections.
She added, rido or clan feud stemming from a political rift involving Moro families, has also been ended through the help of now Gov. Mangudadatu and the religious leaders.
The massacre was allegedly perpetrated by the Ampatuan clan to hide supposed anomalies they committed in the run-up to the 2010 elections.
The Ampatuans are accused of killing the entire entourage of Mangudadatu while they were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy.
Mangudadatu, then-vice mayor of Buluan town, was running for governor, challenging Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of then-incumbent Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Mangudadatu, however, was not in the convoy when the killings happened.
At present, 102 suspects for the crime are in jail, 70 of whom have been granted bail but remain in jail for lack of money.
Santos is optimistic that a resolution of the case would be reached next year after the prosecution finished presenting its case and the defense already winding up.