The Ampatuan massacre: Lest we forget

Edwin G. Espejo

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On Thursday, November 21, families of the massacre victims will retrace the final road traveled by their loved ones. When will justice ever be achieved?

Photo by AFP/Mark Navales

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Lest we forget, we must remind ourselves that 4 years ago, 58 people were killed in one of the most reprehensible massacres in the long line of political murders in the country.

On a scorching mid-day on Nov 23, 2009, Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr and some 192 relatives, policemen, militiamen, and bodyguards stopped a convoy of vehicles that was on its way to the provincial capitol of Maguindanao in Shariff Aguak and diverted it to a secluded and remote village in Masalay, Ampatuan town.

There, witnesses said Andal Jr and his minions peppered the wailing and begging victims with bullets.

Some 4 hours later, the world was jolted and revolted by the gruesome massacre.

Thirty-two of those who were mercilessly gunned down were journalists and media workers.

Standing accused and being prosecuted for the barbaric crime are members of the most fearsome and influential political warlords in Mindanao, along with their henchmen and avid supporters. 

Six members of the Ampatuan clan have since been arrested and are now detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

While most suspects have been arrested and detained, many are still at large. At least 8 of those still in the lam bore the surnames of the principal suspects – Ampatuan.  

And while 96 or so of the suspects are now detained, all but one have yet to face trial, the process bogged down by delaying tactics by the defense.

In that one case that has gone on trial, the lawyers of the accused have yet to present their case after the prosecution rested on November 6 – or 4 years to the month since the massacre.

At least 3 witnesses have been killed since 2010, including a former Ampatuan family employee whose dismembered remains were found stuffed into a sack in 2012.

Despite this, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has said that President Benigno Aquino III wants suspects convicted before his term ends in 2016. (READ: Remembering the Ampatuan massacre)

The final road

On Thursday, November 21, families of the media workers and journalists who perished in the massacre will retrace the final road traveled by their loved ones and carry one message: When will justice ever be achieved?

Indeed, it is not enough to see the masterminds and their minions confined in their detention cells. Paramount is retribution for the victims – for the massacre committed by the Ampatuans.

The families are demanding justice.

The world is insisting on the day of reckoning. Many are convinced that without it, the culture of impunity will forever be with us. – 

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