11 years on, kin of Maguindanao massacre victims say fight not over despite guilty verdict

Davinci Maru, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 23 2020 01:06 PM | Updated as of Nov 23 2020 06:59 PM

Relatives wait as police recover dead bodies along a hillside grave in Ampatuan municipality, Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, November 24, 2009. Aaron Favila, AP/File

MANILA – Families and lawyers of victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre on Monday vowed to keep fighting for justice despite a guilty verdict on some members of the Ampatuan clan for the carnage that left at least 57 people dead, mostly media workers.

While a Quezon City court’s decision was a significant step in proving the guilt of the Ampatuan clan, the decade-long fight for justice continues as the Supreme Court has yet to render a final judgement, said lawyer Nena Santos, who represents a number of families of the victims of the massacre.

“Fight is not yet over… Until a final decision of the Supreme Court on the matter is released and has attained finality, that’s the only time we can say the case is finally resolved,” she said in a virtual forum.

MANILA – Families and lawyers of victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre on Monday vowed to keep fighting for justice despite a guilty verdict on some members of the Ampatuan clan for the carnage that left at least 57 people dead, mostly media workers.

While a Quezon City court’s decision was a significant step in proving the guilt of the Ampatuan clan, the decade-long fight for justice continues as the Supreme Court has yet to render a final judgement, said lawyer Nena Santos, who represents a number of families of the victims of the massacre.

“Fight is not yet over… Until a final decision of the Supreme Court on the matter is released and has attained finality, that’s the only time we can say the case is finally resolved,” she said in a virtual forum.

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On Dec. 19, 2019, members of the Ampatuan clan led by brothers Zaldy and Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. and several others were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison with no parole over the grisly murders, according to a verdict handed down by Quezon City Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

The Maguindanao massacre is considered the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history and single deadliest incident for journalists in the world where bodies were mutilated and dumped hurriedly in a mass grave.

Unsay Ampatuan led the private army that stopped and massacred the convoy of supporters of rival politician Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu on Nov. 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town.

The victims include Mangudadatu's wife, 2 sisters, 12 other relatives, as well as 32 journalists. Some were reportedly shot in the genitals and their bodies were buried in a mass grave in the town's Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman using an excavator.

They were on their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy of then-gubernatorial candidate and now-House Rep. Mangudadatu, challenging Unsay Ampatuan, son of the then incumbent Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. (The latter passed away in 2015 after suffering a massive heart attack while in detention.)

Santos, the lawyer of the victims' families, said they were still facing enormous challenge because 76 of those accused remained at large while the victims’ families and witnesses were subjected to threats, bribes and harassment.

She also bared that only 8 out of 48 more suspects in the second wave of complaints filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) were recommended charged.

The defendants include those who were involved in the cover-up, who shot the victims and who were present in the massacre site, Santos said.

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IT IS 58

There was also no justice for Reynaldo Momay, the 58th victim in the killings.

Momay, a photographer for the local paper Midland Review, was declared missing after 57 bodies were dug from mass graves. The court dismissed his family's claim for damages.

Solis-Reyes had ruled that in the absence of corpus delicti, the prosecution failed to establish with moral certainty that Momay reached the massacre site and experienced the same danger that other victims of the convoy faced.

Only Momay’s supposed dentures were recovered from the crime scene but, according to the court, the prosecution failed to show those were his.

During the forum, Momay’s daughter, Ma. Reynafe Castillo, maintained the victims of the massacre were 58.

“It is 58… My father was there… I will fight until such time my truth will be recognized by law,” she said.

Castillo said her father was deprived of justice when the verdict was handed down, which brought her frustration “to another level of pain.”

“I respected the regional trial court’s decision, but I don’t stand behind the fact it left out justice for my father,” she said.

“My father is a media man. He was a photojournalist. He was there among those victims. The only reason he lost his life was only because of his profession.”

In January 2020, the Momay family filed a notice of appeal with the Quezon City court, expressing their intention to bring their case to the Court of Appeals as they seek to overturn the acquittal of all 101 accused.

For Mary Grace Morales, who lost her husband Rosell, a reporter for News Focus, and her sister Marites Cablitas, a reporter of radio DxBX, the verdict delivered a bittersweet sort of ending to a drawn-out battle for justice.

“Medyo masaya kami sa naging decision, pero medyo disappointed din. Ine-expect namin is for the 58 victims, ‘yung nangyari is 57 lang,” she said.

(We were slightly happy with the decision but also disappointed. We were expecting [justice] for 58 victims, not 57.)

Morales echoed Santos’ sentiments the case was far from resolved.

“Nandito pa rin kami lumalaban… Nanawagan pa kami ng hustisya. Hindi pa buo ‘yung hustisya na nakuha namin,” she said.

(We are still here fighting… We are still calling for justice. What we got was not a full justice.)

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