MANILA - On November 23, 2009, the lives of Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu and his children were forever changed by a gruesome massacre in a hilly barangay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province.
A total of 58 people, including 34 journalists, were massacred by over a hundred armed men led by primary suspect Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. in an effort to prevent the filing of Mangudadatu's certificate of candidacy in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Mangudadatu was not among the victims but his wife Gigi, two sisters, other relatives and two lawyers were among the 58 people killed. The incident led to the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao and the arrest of Ampatuan and several suspects in the killings.
On Wednesday, Mangudadatu, now congressman of Maguindanao's 2nd District, broke down as he recounted how he kept his children safe from further threats after the massacre.
"Tao lang ako. Naiisip ko minsan kung ano kaya mag rido? Gaganti ako. But what hampers me from doing that is my prayers and my kids," Mangudadatu said on ANC's Headstart.
Mangudadatu revealed there were several attempts to kidnap his children after the massacre, which forced him to transfer them. The congressman has 8 children with Gigi.
For their safety, he said he enrolled them in schools using a different surname. He asked the school not to reveal their last name.
"Nagkawatak-watak 'yung anak ko. Minsan para akong nag a-abroad, isang linggo bago ko makita mga anak ko. Makikita ko na lang gabi. Wala akong matulungang permanente kasi takot ako, ayoko silang madamay. Mahal ko sila," he said.
A decade after the massacre, Mangudadatu is still waiting for justice for his murdered loved ones.
"Sinabihan ako ng mga anak ko: 'Mag-move on ka, Pa.' Sabi ko: 'Sige, pero sabi ko hindi niyo pwedeng sabihin sa akin na hindi ko hahanapin 'yung hustisya.' Habang buhay kong hahanapin 'yan," he said.
"I'll fight and kailangan kong ipursige kahit ako lang maiwan dito," he added.
The Supreme Court en banc has allowed the live coverage of the promulgation of judgement of the Maguindanao massacre on Thursday, Dec. 19.
"Sigurado kami talaga na may conviction 'yan doon sa mga major suspects sa Maguindanao Massacre. I'm not saying that the Supreme Court is telling us that there is a positive result of the Maguindanao suspect, but in our side, nandoon lagi sa amin 'yun kasi malinaw naman na 'yung mga witnesses namin, evidence presented before the court are really vital and very solid," said Mangudadatu.
He earlier threatened to resign as a lawmaker if the court failed to rule in favor of the victims in the worst election-related killings in the Philippines.
But even if they get a favorable decision from the court, Mangudadatu said they would still continue with their set-up.
"Mas lalo kaming maging maingat. Ito mag e-expect tayo sa kung anong gagawin nila sa amin. Alam mo nakaprepare kami. Ang lagi lang naman naming sinasabi magtago tayo," he said.
He added that those convicted could still bring their cases to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
"They will rattle the minds of the judges in filling some motions...gagawin nila 'yan. Sana naman hindi kami mawalan ng lakas ng loob lumaban, including the families of the victims," he said.
"Panalangin, 'wag kayong mawalan ng lakas, nandito ang gubyerno and ito ang pinaka-litmus test ng batas natin makikita natin dito."
Of the 197 accused in the massacre, 101 are due for sentencing on Thursday.