CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Organized journalists and relatives of the victims of the single most deadly attack on media workers in history gathered at the site of the infamous Maguindanao Massacre on Sunday, November 20.
The commemoration at the massacre site came three days ahead of the 13th anniversary of the mass murders, and two years after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions prevented them from visiting the site in Ampatuan town in what is now the new province of Maguindanao del Sur.
Thirteen years ago, the town was part of the bigger Maguindanao province which was split into two by a 2021 law that was ratified in September.
“We commemorate this gruesome attack on our colleagues and democracy. The victims’ families are still waiting for justice,” said Jonathan de Santos, the chairman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
The NUJP and Justice Now – the organization of the victims’ families – have been organizing commemoration events since 2010.
The NUJP counted 58 people – 32 of them media workers – who were brutally killed and buried in shallow graves by the private army of Maguindanao’s erstwhile political warlords on November 23, 2009.
Except for one, the victims’ bodies were found at the massacre site.
The 58th victim, photojournalist Reynaldo Momay, remains missing as of this posting, and the NUJP has been pushing that he be recognized as such by the courts.
The victims were in a convoy led by the wife of then gubernatorial aspirant Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu on their way to file his certificate of candidacy when the Ampatuan family’s armed group flagged them down and subsequently carried out the massacre.
Mangudadatu had posed a threat to the ruling political dynasty in Maguindanao, specifically patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s son and namesake Andal Jr.
Andal Jr., his brother Zaldy who was then the governor of the now defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and more than 40 others were convicted although some of the murder cases were on appeal.
Their father had been in a coma and died of a heart attack while in detention in 2015 before a court could make a ruling.
The NUJP organized and led Sunday’s commemoration in Ampatuan town where the journalists and relatives of the victims heard a Mass after sprinkling the markers with holy water.
They also cleaned the surroundings of the memorial and removed the overgrown weeds for the first time since the start of the pandemic restrictions in 2020.
“Families and the media are here to show that the worst election-related attack has not been forgotten nearly 13 years later,” read part of a NUJP statement.
Of the nearly 200 people charged with multiple murders, only 44 have so far been convicted, including 28 primary accused, based on data shown by Press Undersecretary Eugene Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said 83 others, including 16 accessories to the crime, were still at large.
He said eight more were recently arrested and one was killed while authorities were serving him an arrest warrant.
The NUJP said some of the convictions were still under appeal, “and the families continue to wait for justice for those they lost on that day.”
“As the Justice Now families have said in past commemorations, our community’s call for justice is for the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre as well as for all victims of media killings in the Philippines,” De Santos said. – Rappler.com