Grieving families find ‘closure’ in guilty Ampatuan massacre verdict

Rambo Talabong
Grieving families find ‘closure’ in guilty Ampatuan massacre verdict

LeAnne Jazul

For one grieving victim, the guilty verdict is an early Christmas gift from God

MANILA, Philippines – The family of the victims in the brutal Ampatuan massacre case hailed the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to convict most of the Ampatuan brothers, the principal suspects in the case.

Minutes after Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes ended the hearing on Thursday, December 19, smiling families walked out of the annex court in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, led by their lawyer Harry Roque.

Before the trial, they were hopeful of a guilty verdict, with some skeptics bracing for acquittals. But after, they appeared relieved.

Speaking on behalf of his clients, lawyer Harry Roque said many among them found “closure” in the darkest chapter of their lives.

The trial was 10 grueling years for many of the families, as they fought for justice despite threats. In the course of the trial, some 3 witnesses were shot dead.

Roque represented the relatives of 19 of the 58 killed in the 2009 massacre.

“Now, they can move on with their lives,” Roque said, as his clients gestured hand “V” signs to the crowd outside the camp to signal “victory.”

Christmas gift

For one family victim, the verdict was the best Christmas gift she has received from God.

Pamasko talaga niya sa amin ito, kasi ilang araw na lang Pasko, malaking Pamasko ito ng Diyos  sa amin po (This is His Christmas gift for us, because just a few days from now is Christmas. This is a big Christmas gift from God to us),” said Monette Salaysay, who lost her husband Napoleon Salaysay in the massacre.

For Catherine Nuñez, the mother of slain journalist Victor Nuñez, the decision has given her “mixed emotions” because of the acquittals, but she saw the convictions as answered prayers.

‘Yan talaga since sa umpisa dinarasal namin na sana po, lalo na kagabi ‘di kami nakatulog, hindi namin maintindihan kung meron ba, umaasa talaga kami sa hustisya (From the start that’s what we were praying for, even last night we couldn’t sleep, we couldn’t understand, and we hoped that there was justice),” said Nuñez.

Roque said that despite the acquittal of two Ampatuans, his clients were happy to celebrate with the conviction of many of the massacre masterminds. Ten years later, imperfect it may seem, they finally felt justice had been served.

Salaysay said that she was confident that the Ampatuan brothers would never get out of jail again: “Kampante na kami. Wala na yun. Wala nang pag-asang makalabas po yun sa ginawa ba nila na dinami-dami na pinatay nila. Makalabas pa ba yun? (We are confident. They have no chance anymore. They have no chance to get out. After killing so many people, would they still be able to get out?)

But with a chance to reverse the decision in higher courts, could their celebration be too early–

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.