Ampatuan massacre

11 years after Ampatuan Massacre, 58th victim still needs to be proven dead

Lian Buan

#FIGHTFOR58. 'The 58th victim was my father and that victim is Reynaldo Bebot Momay,' is the firm statement of Reynafe Momay-Castillo in appealing the Ampatuan Massacre verdict that recognized only 57 deaths.

Photo from Reynafe Momay's Facebook page

'The 58th victim was my father,' says a determined Reynafe Momay-Castillo. 'To forget is never an option.'

Eleven years since the grisly Ampatuan massacre, Reynafe Momay-Castillo still needs to convince a court that her father Reynaldo is dead and was among the 58 people killed in Maguindanao in 2009.

“My father was there…. This is what I will fight (for) until such time that my truth will be recognized by the court of law,” said Reynafe on Monday, November 23, in an online forum of the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network (FMFA), exactly 11 years since the Ampatuan massacre that killed 58 people, 32 of them journalists.

But in the historic verdict of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in 2019, there were only 57 dead, only 31 journalists, excluding Reynaldo because his body was never found, only a set of dentures that the family claimed to be his.

“The court is convinced that the prosecution was not able to sufficiently establish the death of Reynaldo Momay,” said Judge Reyes’ decision.

The Center for International Law (CenterLaw), which handles Reynaldo’s case, has gone to the Court of Appeals (CA) for the photojournalist’s inclusion, and to seek the award of damages to his kin.

Judge Reyes convicted 28 people, including masterminds Datu Andal Jr and Zaldy Ampatuan, but acquitted 56, including Maguindanao town mayor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan. (SUMMARY: Why many were acquitted, some convicted in Ampatuan massacre)

Declaration of death

Lawyer Nena Santos, who represents other relatives, suggested that Reynafe might consider filing for a declaration of death.

Court declarations of presumptive deaths are commonly heard of in instances of remarriage or claiming benefits or inheritance of the presumptively dead.

“I already suggested that before to the group of Harry Roque, but I don’t know what happened,” Santos said in Filipino, referring to CenterLaw, which Roque co-founded.

CenterLaw’s Gilbert Andres has not responded to Rappler’s queries.

Santos said that at the onset of what became a 10-year trial, she also had difficulty establishing the deaths of some of the victims because the civil local registrar supposedly disappeared.

Some of the bodies were unrecognizable after they were extracted from the massacre site. The killers dug a deep hole in the hilly Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, and buried the dead with a backhoe.

‘Yung local civil registrar nagtago, pinatago o tinago, but since God is good, nahanap natin at sinabi natin sa preliminary investigation na eto, we have the original copy of the death certificates,” Santos said.

(The local civil registrar hid, was hidden, or was asked to hide, but since God is good, we found the registrar and we were able to present the original copy of the death certificates during the preliminary investigation.)

Santos suggested that in seeking a court declaration of death, Reynafe present the same testimonies.

Judge Reyes called an “implausible narrative” the testimony of Reynaldo’s partner Marivic Bilbao, who said that because she cleaned Reynaldo’s dentures “every day for 6 years,” she is competent to identify the dentures as his.

“Who would ever clean every day the denture of a loved one when the latter is not physically incapable of cleaning it himself? Is it a normal human behavior?” said Judge Reyes’ decision.

Judge Reyes also ruled out the testimony of the person who made Reynaldo’s dentures, because the person said during trial that the “marking” found on the recovered dentures was not the marking specifically made for Reynaldo, but for all of his clients.

‘To forget is never an option’

“I respected the Regional Trial Court’s decision but I do not stand behind the fact that it left out justice for my father,” said Reynafe on Monday.

“The only reason why he lost his life was because of his profession, the profession he did not only love, but the profession that guards and protects every citizen’s constitutional right to press freedom. I pray and believe that the same Constitution will bring justice for me and for my father,” Reynafe added.

Santos said that the original records from Reyes’ court were submitted to the CA only in October this year, meaning the process there had only just begun.

Reynafe said she is determined to fight it out until “one day the 57 will be up by one.”

“For me, to forget is not an option, it is never an option and it will never be an option. The 58th victim was my father and that victim is Reynaldo Bebot Momay,” said Reynafe.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicted 8 more, but cleared 40 others, in a 2nd batch of complaints. Santos called the recent DOJ decision another case of impunity. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.