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CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – The family of the photojournalist whose remains have not been found in the Maguindanao massacre site, never lit a candle because they could not say exactly what happened to him on November 23, 2009.
The group of the massacre victims’ relatives, Justice Now, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) counted Tacurong City-based Midland Review photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay as the 32nd media worker and 58th victim of the mass murders in Masalay, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao del Sur, 13 years ago.
But Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes recognized only 57 victims and dismissed the Momay case in her December 2019 decision, owing to the prosecution’s failure to establish that he was among those killed.
Momay’s US-based daughter Reynafe Castillo said the situation was more difficult for her and her family because they were clueless about what exactly happened to the 61-year-old photojournalist.
Castillo said her family could not even light a candle because her father’s body was never found.
She said she was on the verge of losing hope about finding her father’s remains but has continued to seek justice.
“I am asked about how I am and how I am moving on after 13 years of seeking justice for my father… It will be 2023 soon, and that will be another year of seeing the case dragging on. It seems nothing can be done about it. Time seems to have frozen, and justice seems so far away,” she said.
Castillo added, “Maybe 10% (hope) I would leave because that keeps me going to find justice for my dad.”
The Momay family pleaded to the Court of Appeals (CA) in January 2020 to reverse Judge Reyes’ decision, recognize the photojournalist as the 58th victim of the Maguindanao massacre, and make the Ampatuans and their accomplices pay for what happened to the media worker.
In 2019, Castillo and her family were stoic and silent as Reyes handed down her verdict against former governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), his brothers former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., and Anwar Sr., and their accomplices.
The Ampatuans and other principals have been meted sentences of reclusion perpetua of up to 40 years without the benefit of parole or early release after they were found guilty of 57 counts of murder.
The murder cases about Momay, however, were all dismissed despite the presentation of dentures, believed to be Momay’s, that were found at the crime scene.
The court said it doubted that the dentures were Momay’s, and the testimony of the photojournalist’s partner that she recognized them because she supposedly washed them for years.
Several witnesses testified that Momay was seen with the Shariff Aguak-bound convoy led by the wife of then-gubernatorial aspirant Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
But the court ruled: “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.”
Castillo appealed to relatives of the other victims and support groups to pray for her family as they wait for the appellate court to rule on their pleading.
“How do we kill the broken? Shoot down their fighting spirit. I am indeed broken but capable. I am trying to survive for the sole reason that as a broken person, I don’t want my fight for justice to be killed further. I do not want to forget and be left without any purpose,” she said.
Castillo said she was grateful to lawyers from the group CenterLaw, particularly lawyer Gilbert Andres, “who share my vigor in never giving up in this case.”
“There is still hope and remedy being God the center of all these things, especially in my quest for justice,” she said.
On Sunday, November 20, a group of journalists and some relatives of the victims visited the massacre site in Masalay, Ampatuan to commemorate the 13th anniversary of the massacre.
The 2009 massacre was described as the single bloodiest attack on journalists so far given the media death toll.
That day, Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn, accompanied by lawyers and supporters, was supposed to register her husband as a candidate for Maguindanao governor, and the journalists joined the convoy to cover the event.
She was shot several times and her genitals showed lacerations. The other victims were also brutally killed.
Records showed that Andal Jr., Mangudadatu’s opponent, and his armed followers stopped the convoy along the Isulan-Cotabato City highway in Ampatuan town, seized their mobile phones, and brought the victims to a hill in Masalay, some four kilometers from the highway, where they were brutally killed.
Meanwhile, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chairman Jonathan de Santos appealed for aid for the relatives of the victims, saying the cases have been straining their finances.
“If we need to pass the hat, we should do that,” De Santos said.
Speaking for the relatives’ group Justice Now, Emily Lopez said many of them could no longer make both ends meet.
“Most of the victims were the breadwinners of their families,” Lopez said.
“Hirap na hirap na po kami (We are really having difficulties),” she said, adding that much of the financial aid received by Justice Now has already been spent. – Rappler.com