58th Ampatuan massacre victim forgotten in verdict?

Rambo Talabong
(UPDATED) Reynaldo Momay, a journalist who was seen covering the candidacy filing of Esmael 'Toto' Mangudadatu and was never found again, is not counted as a murder victim by the Ampatuan brothers

REMEMBERED. Graves of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. Photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Did the court wrongfully snub the 58th victim of the Ampatuan massacre?

Lawyer Harry Roque believes so after the court in its historic verdict on Thursday, December 19, convicted suspects over only 57 deaths, excluding the death of Reynaldo Momay, a 61-year-old photojournalist believed to be killed in the massacre but with no trace of him found in the mass grave site, save for dentures believed to be his.

Nalulungkot din po kami dahil na-absuwelto po ang mga akusado sa 58th count of murder. Ito po yung sa pagpatay kay Mr Momay na isang peryodista na hanggang ngayon ay hindi pa nahahanap,” Roque told reporters after the promulgation of the verdict. 

(We are also saddened by the acquittal of the accused in the 58th count of murder in the killing of Mr Momay, who is a journalist whom we still can’t find.)

Roque said he made a manifestation in the hearing that they would appeal the court’s decision using the discovered dentures believed to be his, along with witness accounts saying that he was part of the doomed coverage for the filing of the certificate of candidacy of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

In her decision Reyes said: “None of the witnesses recovered the cadaver of Momay in the massacre site. His live-in partner, Marivic Bilbao, and relatives did not find his body in any of the funeral parlors in Koronadal, Isulan, and Tacurong City. None of the documentary evidence showed the death certificate of the victim.”

Reyes added that she was not convinced that the dentures found in the gravesite was Momay’s, doubting his partner’s narration that she recognized them from washing them for years.

Roque, however, lawyer stressed that the court acknowledging Momay as a victim wouldn’t change much of the punishment for the cuprits, as with 57 counts alone, the maximum 40-year sentence has already been fulfilled. (READ: Ampatuan brothers convicted in 10-year massacre case)

Hindi pa po tapos ang laban pagdating kay Mr Momay. Itutuloy po natin ang laban,” said Roque. (The fight for Mr Momay is not yet over. We will continue the fight.)  

Before becoming a photojournalist, Momay ran a mom-and-pop store and a restaurant in Tacurong City, according to the New York Times. He started out in the media industry as a messenger then an advertising agent.

In the aftermath of the massacre, Momay’s family went on an intense search for him only to mistakenly claim the body of another victim. They fear that he had been claimed by another family, considering that most of the bodies were almost unrecognizable after they were extracted from the massacre’s mass gravesite.

The fight for recognizing him as the 58th victim has been led by his daughter Reynafe Castillo before she moved to the United States in 2012 to work as a nurse. In a Facebook status update, she said she could not sleep after the verdict came out.

“Sad day for me and my family,” she said, punctuating the post with a crying emoji. “Justice for my dad!”– Rappler.com

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.