Daughter of 58th Ampatuan massacre victim continues to fight for justice


MANILA, Philippines – Justice was served to the families of 57 of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre, but the daughter of the 58th victim still cannot rest. (READ: 55 acquitted, 28 convicted in Ampatuan massacre)

Reynafe Momay Castillo, or Nenen to her friends and family, watched the promulgation on Thursday, December 19, in the Philippines from her home in Minnesota. She was alone, as her husband and sons were at work or school, but she was in contact with the other victims’ families as they made their way to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, where Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes handed down the decision on the case. 

That day, 28 men were convicted of 57 counts of murder. When she heard, Momay knew that her father was not considered among the victims of the massacre. (TIMELINE: The long road to justice for Ampatuan massacre victims)

The body of her father, photojournalist Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay, has yet to be found. A partial upper denture, identified as his by the missionary who made it and by the victim’s long-time live-in partner, was all that placed him in the scene of the massacre. 

“Alam mo, talagang I’m so excited para sa araw na ‘yon. Kasi hindi ko iniisip na ganito ang mangyayari. What happened was, para ba akong, na-caught unaware,” she told Rappler over the phone, two days after the promulgation. (You know, I was really excited for that day. Because I didn’t think that this would happen. What happened was that I was caught unaware.)

Momay said she had been awake for hours before due to excitement and she stayed awake for hours afterwards to process what happened. “So yung feeling ko ba na naging kulang ulit,she said. “Siguro kung hindi nila tinanggap yung case namin, yung feeling ko siguro ngayon would be, well, nakuha ko na rin yung hustisya. Pero feeling ko parang pinaasa kami and then nilaglag.”

(So I again felt that we didn’t do enough. Maybe if they hadn’t accepted our case, what I would be feeling now would be, well, that I got justice. But I felt that they made us hope and then dropped us.)

Behind the camera

Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay was a photojournalist for the Midland Review, based in Tacurong City, Sultan Kudarat.

Momay still remembers the last time she saw her father, a day before the massacre. He had visited them and wanted to see her two sons. They were her father’s only grandchildren and were 16 and 11 years old in 2009.

“Pinagbilin pa sila sa akin, na ‘wag pabayaan ang mga bata,” Momay recounted. 

Her kids had gone through a lot, she said. After the massacre, her youngest used to go to the site with her to search for a body and both her sons used to have dreams of riding on their lolo’s motorcycle. Both have had to deal with issues of anger and aggression – and eventually, forgiveness – at a young age.

When asked for a photo of her dad, Momay said we could use the image that the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines releases on their website. She realized sadly that her father didn’t have many photos with their family: “Tatay ko parati ang nakahawak ng camera, kaya wala siyang picture na kaming magkakasama halos.” (My dad was always the one holding the camera, so he practically doesn’t have any photos with us.)

'No sufficiently relevant proof'

According to the 761-page decision, no one has allegedly seen or heard from Nenen’s father since November 23, 2009. 

On that day, he had joined the convoy of journalists who were covering Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s filing of candidacy for Maguindanao governor. 

What followed was a massacre of 58 people by the Ampatuan clan, which has long held power in Maguindanao. The Ampatuan massacre is the single deadliest attack on journalists worldwide, as 32 journalists were killed. 

The decision of Reyes convicted 28 of the 197 accused – including the principal accused, brothers Datu Andal Jr Ampatuan and Zaldy Ampatuan – of 57 counts of murder. Their other brother Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan was acquitted and is currently the mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipality. 

Bebot Momay's denture found on the scene was not enough for the court to include him as among those murdered. The decision read: “Simply put, there is no sufficiently relevant proof connecting the object evidence – the denture – with the person of Momay. The mere say-so of the prosecution witnesses that the victim wore the subject denture will not amply establish its identity. Mere allegation and speculation is not evidence, and is not equivalent to proof."

“Sa imbestigasyon ‘yan eh,” said forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun said at a post-verdict forum held on Friday, December 20, when asked who was at fault for Momay’s situation. “Yung prosecution naman, yung mga abogado, gagamitin nila kung ano man yung…wala sila sa on site, wala sila right at the beginning, so sa imbestigasyon 'yan.”

(That’s on the investigation. The prosecution, the lawyers, they’ll use whatever is available…they weren’t on site, they weren’t there right at the beginning, so that’s on the investigation.)

57 bodies

When we spoke to Momay, she said the promulgation and verdict was bittersweet: a verdict has been handed down, but it was lacking. 

She felt she had been “left behind,” as she was years ago, when the massacre happened and other families could take legal action on the murders immediately. 

During that time, she looked at every dead body they found and went to every hearing, even though she hadn’t filed a case yet.

Kung 57 bodies yung narecover, 57 bodies din yung nakita ko. Fifty-seven different kinds of faces nakita ko. So in that matter of 3 months hindi ako makapikit, hindi ako pagod, ganoon yun, ganoon 'yung pinagdaanan ko,” she said.

(If there were 57 bodies recovered, I also saw 57 bodies. I saw 57 different kinds of faces. So in that matter of 3 months I couldn’t close my eyes, I wasn’t tired, that’s what I went through.)

When her lawyers called her after the promulgation, she said it was the first time she witnessed them crying. 

Her lawyer Harry Roque previously told the press that they would appeal the civil case, but Momay said that she hasn’t discussed it with him at length. She’s been giving it a lot of thought, she said, because for her, it’s not about the money – she’s after justice. 

Momay said she’s willing to fight another 10 years for it, if that’s what it takes. “You know what? If yun ang makakapagbigay ng peace sa akin, at saka sa tatay ko, why not? Kasi you know…kung pera lang ang habol ko, magmamadali ako, because we can file the civil case. But what I’m after here is justice. So if mag-take pa yan ng another 10 years for me na maipasok ang tatay ko doon sa murder…I’m ready.” 

(You know what? If that is what will give me and my father peace, why not? Because you know…if I was after the money, I would be in a hurry, because we can file the civil case. But what I’m after here is justice. So if it will take another 10 years for me to have my father included among those murdered…I’m ready.) – Rappler.com