MANILA — Twelve years since the Maguindanao massacre, the daughter of photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, whose body remains missing, vows to continue seeking justice.
Momay worked for Tacurong-based Midland Review and is believed to be the 58th victim of the brutal killings in Maguindanao province on Nov. 23, 2009. The crime has been regarded as the worst election-related violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest event for journalists around the world.
“Hindi biro sa amin yung nawalan kami. Nawalan in a sense na nawala, literal na nawala ang tatay ko. Hindi siya nawala na nakita namin, nailbing namin, na may napupuntahan kami. Hindi ganun yun eh," Reynafe Castillo, daughter of Momay, said Tuesday, the 12th anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre.
(Our loss is not a joke. We lost someone - in a sense that our father literally went missing. And we lost him without us finding him later and burying him in a place where we can also visit him.)
"In our case, wala kaming, di namin alam kung saan namin pupuntahan,” she shared in an online forum organized by the Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition Southeast Asia.
(In our case, we don't know of a place where we should go to to commemorate him.)
Momay was last seen with the convoy that included 32 journalists, the wife and relatives of then gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu and some supporters who were stopped by a group of armed men while on their way to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy.
Mangudadatu’s rival, Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., alias Unsay, led the group to a hilly site in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao where they were shot to death multiple times, their bodies buried in a pit along with vehicles they were riding in.
The primary suspects were key members of the powerful Ampatuan clan, who lorded over Maguindanao local politics and saw Mangudadatu, once an ally, as a threat.
In December 2019, a little over 10 years after the killings, a Quezon City court convicted five out of seven Ampatuans — Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Sr., Anwar Ampatuan, Jr. and Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, aside from Datu Unsay himself.
Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes found them and several others guilty of 57 counts of murder, but acquitted all of the accused for the 58th count involving Momay.
Since only Momay’s denture was found at the crime scene, the court said it was not established that he was among those killed.
“Nagkaroon na sana kami ng hope when, noong tinanggap yun ng court na pang-58. And then, noong lumabas yung acquittal, para bang biglang naglaho lahat ng pangarap ko na mabigyan ng hustisya ang tatay ko,” Castillo said.
(We saw a glimmer of hope when the court acknowledged my father as the 58th victim. But when the acquittal came, it's like my dream to get justice for my father is suddenly gone.)
“Nung ilabas ng korte na acquitted sila sa tatay ko, hindi lang doble, hindi lang triple ang sakit ang nararamdaman ko. Sobrang sakit ang naramdaman ko dahil hindi ko alam kung kinonsider ba nila ang tatay kong tao o hayop na nawala,” she added.
(When the court acquitted them in relation to my father, the pain I felt is more than doubled, or tripled. It was very painful for me because I don't know if they even considered my father as a human being, or is just an animal that went missing.)
Lawyers from CenterLaw who represent the family of Momay have appealed the ruling with the Court of Appeals.
CenterLaw Deputy Executive Director Gilbert Andres explained that while a witness saw Momay as part of the convoy, there was no witness identifying him at the crime scene.
He suggested it is time for the Philippine legal community to look into changes in the country's laws and jurisprudence when it comes to proving deaths even with the absence of a cadaver.
“This has been one of the modes of those who murder, for the sake of impunity, that they will actually destroy or they will actually bury it, or they will destroy it beyond recognition. That has been the modus operandi,” he said.
“So I think it’s time to, in a sense, change our jurisprudence that there should be a presumption — if a person was last seen in the hands of public officers."
“If you have circumstantial evidence, eyewitness na nakapagsabing nandun siya sa caravan na yun, nandun siya sa convoy na yun, although walang witness na nagsasabing andun siya sa massacre site, then there should be a leeway na sabihin nilang part siya ng massacre na ‘yun,” he added.
(If you have an eyewitness saying he was part of the caravan, he was in the convoy, yet there is no witness saying he was at the massacre site, there should be a leeway in concluding that he is among those massacred.)
For former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who actively handled the case prior to serving in government, Solis-Reyes erred in dismissing the 58th case.
He insisted that there is nothing in the rules on evidence that requires the presence of the body or the cadaver to prove the death of a person.
“If the totality of evidence, not just circumstantial evidence, point that in fact a person was a victim even if the body is not found, then it should support a conviction. But the problem is, you’re dealing with weight of evidence, and the judge has to determine whether or not the threshold weight of proof beyond reasonable doubt was met,” he explained.
“But the body of the remains, the cadaver, is not an indispensible evidence if you have other evidence, the totality of which will establish that the person in fact has been killed,” he added.
At the very least, Roque said, the judge should have considered the civil aspect of the case and awarded damages.
“I think there is sufficient preponderance of evidence in a civil case to establish that in fact, Momay was a victim. It’s, number one, the testimony of those who last saw the victim that he was in fact, present. Number 2, the physical evidence of dentures, the identification of the dentures belonging to Momay and the blood of Momay,” he said.
For Castillo, the case is about justice, not money.
“Kahit siguro ubusin pa lahat ng pera sa mundo, hindi mababayaran yung buhay na nawala. Hindi mababayaran yung sakit ng loob na binigay sa akin, lalo na’t feeling ko naging salingpusa ako the whole time, the whole 12 years. Para akong…well the word 'lost' is really nasa akin eh,” she said.
(All the money in the world can never compensate for the life lost. It can never compensate for the hurt I felt, especially that I felt I was just a minor complainant the whole time, the whole 12 years. I feel like I am lost myself.)
Castillo vowed to continuing fighting, even though she already lost her mother, too.
“Nawala na lang ang nanay ko sa mundo na hindi nasisilayan ang hustisya. And ayoko mangyari na mawala rin ako na hindi ko masisilayan ang hustisya, kaya itutuloy ko ang laban,” she said.
(My mother died without seeing justice for my father. And I will not allow that to happen to me, so I will carry on the fight.)
FROM THE ARCHIVES