MANILA, Philippines – It’s better late than never.
This was the rationale of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) OIC Gov Mujiv Hataman when he organized a simple commemoration of the Maguindanao massacre on Friday, November 23, three years after the gruesome murder of 58 people in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, including 32 journalists.
The event gathered employees of the ARMM government and Cotabato City media, all of whom came together to remember the dead.
“Better late than never. My only point is, it is the obligation of those from ARMM to reflect on this,” Hataman said in Filipino. This was the ARMM government’s first time to participate in such a commemoration.
The commemoration, which started at 6:30 am in front of the Regional Government Office of Cotabato City, lasted a little over an hour. It was joined by about 500 employees and media men donned in black, some with the words, “Justice for the victims.”
Attendees released black balloons, participated in tree-planting, and held a moment of silence to remember the dead. Security around the massacre site was also tightened to respect the victims.
Hataman, who was appointed by President Benigno Aquino III in December 2011 to head the ARMM, said the event was meant to raise awareness of human right violations, a rarity in the 5-province region.
“Ang Maguindanao massacre ay nagbigay ng pagkamulat hindi lamang ng media at mga political leader, kung hindi maging ang hudikatura. Malaking bagay ito upang hindi na maulit dahil walang sinsanto ang batas,” he said.
(The Maguindanao massacre opened the eyes not just of media but of political leaders and the justice system. It is very important that this will not happen again because the law should not favor anybody).
In 2009, then ARMM governor Zaldy Amaptuan was expelled from office two days after the massacre when his brother, Andal Ampatuan Jr., was tagged as one of the massacre’s mastermind.
No one has yet been convicted for what the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calls the single deadliest event for journalists in history.
Hataman, who is running for governor under Aquino’s Liberal Party, said he wants to ensure that such crimes will not happen under his administration.
However he insisted that the event was not meant to be a political statement, but a simple way to remember what happened 3 years ago.
“Huwag muna natin bigyan ng kulay pulitika. Bigyan muna natin ng halaga ang interes ng mamamayan,” he said. – with reports from Ferdinandh Cabrera