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MANILA, Philippines -- Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said he almost shed a tear when President Benigno Aquino III said in his State of the Nation Address on Monday that he would not “forgive and forget” the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre.
Mangudadatu lost his wife and two sister in the massacre that happened after armed men stopped a convoy on its way to file the certificate of candidacy of the then vice mayor of Buluan town who was running for governor against former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Ampatuan allegedly led the gunmen.
He and several key members of their powerful family, including his father and clan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and brother, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy, have been charged for the massacre and are in detention.
Mangudadatu told InterAksyon he couldn’t help but be overcome by emotion over Aquino’s “strong” statement.
“Mangiyak-ngiyak ako nung mabanggit ng Pangulo na ‘di niya pababayaan yung kaso (I was close to tears when the President mentioned that he would not ignore the case),” he said.
Before winding down his 89-minute speech, Aquino vowed never to “forgive and forget” the massacre, although he got the number of victims wrong -- 57.
“Forgive and forget na lang ba para sa mga naulila ng limampu’t pitong biktima ng masaker sa Maguindanao? Maibabalik ba sila ng forgive and forget (Should it be forgive and forget for those left behind by the 57 victims of the massacre in Maguindanao? Will their lives be restored by forgive and forget)?” Aquino said.
The massacre claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers. However, only 57 counts of murder have been filed against the suspects because the body of photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay has yet to be found. Only his dentures were recovered from the massacre site in Ampatuan town.
Mangudadatu said he had spoken with Aquino about the case several times and was assured that justice would be given to the victims.
“Ilang beses na kaming nag-usap. ‘Di raw nya kami pababayaan (We have spoken several times. He assured us he would not leave us alone),” Mangudadatu said.
The Ampatuan massacre is the worst single attack on journalists in history and the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history.