Awaiting payout, Ampatuan victim’s child struggles with heart disease

Lian Buan

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Awaiting payout, Ampatuan victim’s child struggles with heart disease
Argie Caniban fled Kuwait before to run away from an abusive employer. But she might just seek overseas work again because 10-year-old Princess has a heart disease, and the P350,000 worth of damages may not cover a lifetime of care.

MANILA, Philippines – It has been a tough 10 years on widowed Argie Caniban ever since she lost her husband John in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, and it’s not about to get any easier, even with the long-awaited guilty verdict on her husband’s killers.

Their only daughter Princess Arianne, who is 10 years old or as old as the massacre, was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease in October of last year. (READ: Children bear the brunt 10 years since Ampatuan massacre)

Rheumatic heart disease means there was damage detected to the valve of Princess’ heart, and this can either be treated by medication or surgery.

Argie has to spend P3,000 ($58) every month for Princess’ medicines; 10,000 ($196) for injections every 21 days; and P5,000 ($98) every 5 months for 2D echo procedures on Princess’ heart. All this while hoping Princess never needs surgery.

Argie has not been able to get a job since John died because Princess needs full-time attention.

She remembers the time when John was alive. Princess was a sickly child, and while John’s salary from Periodico Ini helped a lot, it wasn’t enough.

“Dinaanan namin hirap talaga, palagi lang siya nasa hospital, pumupunta sa pulitiko, nanghihingi ng tulong,” Argie said of her late husband.

(We really struggled, John always spent time at the hospital, he would seek help from politicians.)

John, along with 31 other journalists, joined the convoy of then governor aspirant Esmael Toto Mangudadatu on his way to file his certificate of candidacy when they were massacred by the members of the rival clan Ampatuan.

Twenty eight (28) people were convicted for the murders in a decision by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) on December 19, 2019, or 10 years in the making. 56 were acquitted. The Ampatuans have started appealing their convictions. 

Only P350,000 in damagaes

Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes awarded each family P350,000 in total damages, plus the equivalent of income lost for the killed victim, which varies per family.

While some families will get as much as P23 million for the loss of earning capacity (heirs of Jephone Cadagdagon, journalist), a total of 16 families, including Argie, were not awarded income loss because they did not submit evidence to the court.

Argie is at a loss on what to do next, because she said P350,000 will certainly not be enough for what could be a lifetime of medication for Princess.

The P350,000 will also not be given immediately. Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon earlier said the decision needs to be final, meaning it would have to be upheld by the Supreme Court, before families can start claiming damages, a process that can take years.

“Nabalitaan lang namin news update lang na baka after two years,” Argie said. (We heard from news updates that maybe it would still take two years.)

The lawyers for the victims’ families are still navigating the appeal period as to the next steps they will take on the aspect of damages.

Argie, for one, wants to know if she can still submit evidence of loss of John’s earning capacity.

It’s a question nobody has the answer to yet. Her lawyer Nena Santos was still uncertain when Rappler reached out on Monday, January 20.

“Wala rin po kaming Philhealth,” Argie said. (We also do not have Philhealth.)

“Minsan po nanghihingi ako sa kapatid ko at sa parents ko, lahat ng gamit ko na-prenda ko na sa pawnshop,” she added.

(Sometimes I ask help from my siblings and parents. I have pawned off all my things.)

Watch Princess perform a skit here on November 17, 2019, a month before the verdict and days before the 10th year anniversary:


Forced to go abroad

Financial help for Ampatuan victims came in the form of scholarships, which Princess received when she was in Grade 1, but like with other children, that stopped last year.

In 2012, Argie went to Kuwait because of mounting financial problems. But she had to flee.

“Almost 5 months po ako, inattempt po ako ng amo ko na gahasain, nag-run away po ako sa ganun na sitwasyon,” Argie said.

(I was there almost 5 months but my employer attempted to rape me. I ran away from that situation.)

Argie said she might just be forced to leave Princess again and seek a job overseas, but she said she will never go back to Kuwait.

“Kapag hindi siya naka-inom ng maintenance pabalik balik yung pneumonia,” Argie said, saying she has to order Princess’ maintenance medicines ahead because the pharmacies in General Santos City do not have them in stock. (If we fail to give her maintenance medicine, her pneumonia recurs.)

“Kung minsan nagkuha na ako ng passport ko, gusto ko na i-renew, gusto ko bumalik para masuportahan ko yung anak ko, kahit saan po na country,” said Argie. (Sometimes I will get my passport and I want to renew it, I want to go back overseas to support my daughter, any country will do.)

Every time she feels the urge to seek job overseas, she fights it because Princess cannot lose another parent.

Argie said her family has received offers before – as much as P50 million – to drop the case, but they never blinked.

But Argie is grasping at straws – and the justice she has fought for and waited for so long does not seem like it can offer concrete help anytime soon. –

For those who want to help Argie and Princess Caniban, please contact the author at or Argie at 09656123426

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.