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Today, August 19, is Day 1,000 since the Ampatuan massacre on November 23, 2009. A thousand days have passed and at least four witnesses have been eliminated, the victims' families have been continued to receive threats, and most of the suspects have not been arraigned.
Permanently silenced by death
In March, a body severed into pieces was recovered in Sharrif Aguak town and was believed to be that of militiaman Esmail Anil Enog, who earlier testified in court that he drove fellow private armed men to the massacre site.
His fellow militiaman, Suwaib “Jesse” Upham, was killed earlier, in 2010, before the Prosecution could present him in court.
In late June, Prosecution confirmed a certain Menjie Nangulamas Ubpon, shot dead by two men in February, was the same person as prospective witness and Enog’s immediate boss Alijol Ampatuan.
Earlier, on Feb. 6, Police Officer 1 Hernanie Decipulo, an accused who was under petition to be converted as state witnesses, died after allegedly jumping off the detention facility in Camp Bagong Diwa.
Not slow justice, ‘just judicial process at work’
While some believe the Ampatuan massacre trial has been moving sluggishly, with continuous threats and sporadic killings linked to the massacre, Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes believes otherwise. Speaking to reporters in June, she appealed not to “put all the blame on the court,” and added the perceived delays “is just the judicial process at work.”
Assured Reyes, “The case is moving forward, the prosecution is presenting evidence, and the case is being heard.”
But it is different for the families of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre who have yet to see any glimpse of justice.
The frustration is especially worse for Reynafe Momay: The remains of her father, Midland Review journalist Reynaldo Momay, have yet to be recovered, and her petition to include her father as the 58th victim in the massacre case is still sitting before the Justice Department.
Momay’s lawyers re-filed the 58th case in March this year after being dismissed earlier. Circumstantial evidence, including an affidavit of a fellow journalist who dropped out of the convoy at the last minute and Reynaldo’s dentures, which were recovered from the crime scene, were presented during the preliminary investigation (PI). But a promised resolution by July of this year did not transpire as Fiscal Bernardo L. Parico resigned on July 31.
“Parang iniwan ako ni Fiscal Parico sa ere (Fiscal Parico seemed to have left me hanging in the air)” said Reynafe in a telephone interview. “Kung kanino niya iniwan [ang kaso], hindi namin alam (Who he left the case with, we don’t know).”
InterAksyon.com tried to contact Parico’s office to ask who among the prosecutors is now handling the PI in lieu of Parico, but none has responded as of this writing.
Reynafe said that while Parico informed her and her counsel Atty. Gilbert Andres of his plan to resign, he promised to finish the case and render a resolution before his departure. “Dismayado ako, hanggang ngayon, pero umaasa ako na baka may lumabas na ang resolusyon (I am dismayed, but until now, I hope that a resolution will be issued soon),” she said.
No arraignment of Zaldy Ampatuan still
Similarly, even when their cases have a nearly three-year headstart compared to Reynaldo Momay’s, families of other victims have been voicing their frustration over what appears to be a protracted trial.
Editha Tiamzon, wife of UNTV driver Daniel Tiamzon, used to attend the twice-a-week hearings at Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221’s makeshift court in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig. She has admitted that the tedious process upsets her, causing her to stop attending the hearings for nearly a year now: “Minsan, naha-high blood lang ako (Sometimes, my blood pressure just shoots up.”
She said her biggest frustration so far has been Branch 221’s failure to arraign former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao governor and massacre co-accused Zaldy Ampatuan.
Zaldy was said to be present in planning the murder of people who would join and cover the filing the certificate of candidacy of former ally-turned-bitter rival, Maguindanao Gov. Toto Mangudadatu, on November 23, 2009.
On April 25, Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis deferred Zaldy’s scheduled arraignment, much to the dismay of victims’ kin who attended the hearing at the makeshift court inside Camp Bagong Diwa. Solis said the Court had to await the Supreme Court (SC) decision to an unresolved petition that sought Zaldy Ampatuan’s exclusion from the massacre case.
But on June 25, SC Third Division junked Zaldy’s petition. According to the decision, Zaldy failed to prove the Court of Appeals committed grave abuse of discretion when it ruled, on November 8, 2011, to affirm his involvement in the mass murder. RTC Branch 221 has yet to schedule Zaldy’s arraignment, however.
Tiamzon said she felt, “Parang ‘di nagpupursigi na ma-arraign si Zaldy (As if there was no effort to arraign Zaldy).”
Groups such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have pressed for Zaldy Ampatuan’s arraignment. But they have seen factors that may have contributed to the perceived delays in the trial. Motions have yet to be resolved, including the conversion of several suspects into state witnesses, and petitions barring key witnesses such as Kenny Dalandag from testifying.
100 suspects remain scot-free
Apart from Zaldy, 23 more suspects have yet to be arraigned. These include principal accused Akmad Ampatuan, Saudi Ampatuan, Jr., and Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan. The 76th arraigned suspect, Police Supt. Abdulwahid Pedtucasan, was formally charged on August 2. And while 96 suspects have been arrested, 100 of them have remained scot-free. Anwar Ampatuan would not have been arrested if not for a bombing incident on March 26 which left him wounded.
More so, victims have been, according to reports received by NUJP, “attacked, threatened, offered bribes and harassed,” discouraging them from testifying and being vocal about the case.
In late July, Myrna Reblando, wife of Manila Bulletin correspondent Bong Reblando, surprised some people closely following the case when she appeared before the press in Hong Kong. She explained she left the Philippines out of frustration and fear. She left without finishing her testimony to claim damages for her slain husband.
"I am ready to die. However, I cannot put the life of my children at risk…They have only me now," Reblando was quoted as telling the press.
Another widow, Reynafe shared, was forced to ask her daughter to resign because she supposedly was also receiving death threats: “Nadedepress ang bata, dahil walang trabaho (She is depressed because she is out of work).”
But Reynafe maintained, it is not enough that the case moves. “Yung mga nakakausap kong abogado, para sa kanila, mabilis na ang takbo. Pero sa ating layman, di mo maiiintindihan kung gaano kabilis to (For lawyers I’ve talked to, the case is already moving. But for us, we can’t understand how this can be called fast).”
NUJP, which together with other media and rights groups, is holding a vigil to commemorate the 1,000th of the world's worst crime against the media. And all are asking for simply one thing: justice.