MANILA, Philippines – In the presence of the families of Maguindanao massacre victims, President Rodrigo Duterte ordered government officials to secure the speedy conviction of the principal accused in the worst case of election-related violence in the country.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque relayed this to media in a statement on Friday, November 24. Roque was at the Palace meeting held on Thursday, November 23 – the 8th anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre.
According to Roque, who once served as lawyer for some of the victims' families, Duterte gave orders to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, Presidential Task Force on Media Security head Joel Sy Egco, and state prosecutors "to see to it that a conviction would be handed down to the principal accused the soonest time possible."
Egco had earlier told Rappler that a court decision on two of the principal accused, Akmad "Tato" Ampatuan Sr and Anwar Ampatuan Sr, can be expected as early as first quarter of 2018.
Duterte also instructed Special Assistant to the President Christopher "Bong" Go to arrange employment, scholarships, and financial assistance to the families.
Roque told media that Duterte, as Davao City mayor, had provided the helicopter that found the site of the Maguindanao massacre.
Naomi Parcon, wife of one of the slain media men, said she has high hopes that the cases would be resolved within Duterte's term.
"There are some officials of our government who are tainted by corruption because we know our enemy has a lot of money. Because our President has a campaign against corruption, we trust that before he steps down as president, we can attain justice for our loved ones," Parcon told media before the meeting.
She expressed hurt that almost a decade after the carnage, there have been no convictions for any of the 188 accused. (READ: After 8 years, what's next in the Maguindanao massacre trial?)
"It's been 8 years nangyari 'yon pero masakit pa rin (It's been 8 years since it happened, but it is still painful). Although we have moved on, but the search for justice is still there," she said, fighting tears.
The 13 who were given an audience with Duterte are kin of media workers killed during the massacre on November 23, 2009. Of the 58 victims, 32 were media workers.
The family members present at the meeting are as follows:
The cases had been delayed by attacks on witnesses, among them, Dennix Sakal, the former driver of former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. Sakal was killed in 2014, while on his way to meet government prosecutors. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.