Families of Maguindanao Massacre victims optimistic about decision despite stalled case

November 23, 2018 - 11:26 AM
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Maguindanao Massacre
Site where the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre were found in November 2009. (Philstar.com/file photo)
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The families of the 58 victims of the Maguindanao Massacre still cling to the hope that the Philippines’ judicial system will give them the justice they deserve, nine years after the gruesome tragedy.

The victims’ kin in a joint statement said that they expect a decision in their favor, after the multiple murder case against the suspects was reportedly submitted for resolution by the Quezon City Regional Trial CourtBranch 221.

“We have full confidence that the evidence presented is enough to prove Datu Unsay’s (Ampatuan) guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and we await the verdict with cautious hope,” they said in their statement.

The government officials assisting in the case also voiced their optimism.

“We believe that we really have a strong case against them,” Communications Undersecretary and the Presidential Task Force on Media Security executive director Joel Egco said during an interview with One News on Wednesday.

He said that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara expects the promulgation of the judgement to take place within the first quarter of 2019.

Primary defendant Andal Ampatuan Jr. recently submitted the last of his evidence in the trial the started back in early 2010.

The ninth anniversary of the tragedy on Friday saw many continue to cry for justice.

Nine years and counting

The large number of suspects, many of whom are still in hiding years after the tragedy, is believed to have caused severe delays in the trial.

Over 100 armed men were believed to have been involved in the killing of the 58 victims, who were part of a convoy traveling in Maguindanao.

The arrests after the killing led to 197 initial suspects. 80 of those charged with multiple murder are still in hiding.

Members of the Ampatuan political clan were accused of masterminding the massacre after a government-owned excavator emblazoned with the name of then-Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., was found buried near the site where the bodies of the victims were found.

The legal actions taken by some of the suspects, which include petitions for bail and demurrers to the evidence, are believed to have stalled the case.

One suspect, Anwar Ampatuan, tried to quash the charges against him but his petition was dismissed by the Court of Appeals in 2012.

Some of the suspects have passed away, including Ampatuan Sr., who succumbed to liver cancer in 2015.

Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the alleged masterminds, was granted furlough to attend his daughter’s wedding in August 2018. The victims’ kin, including Rep. Zaid Mangudadatu, protested the decision of the RTC judge who allowed the move.

Lawyer Harry Roque, then the counsel for the families of the victims, said that the number of suspects, all of whom could avail of legal remedies, could push the maximum duration of the case to 100 years.

The late former senator Joker Arroyo, another seasoned lawyer, estimated that a case with that many victims, witnesses and suspects involved could reach 200 years to be fully adjudicated on.

Aftermath

The killing was regarded as one of the most tragic incidents of election-related violence, and the biggest attack on media practitioners in history.

International human rights groups and media watchdog groups also joined the condemnation. Several documentaries investigating the events that led to the killing have been produced around the world.

Thirty two of the victims were journalists covering the local elections in Mindanao. The rest were relatives, supporters and staff of the Mangudadatu clan which was going up against the Ampatuans in the 2010 local elections.

Six of the victims were reportedly mistaken as members of the media and the Mangudadatu convoy.

The female victims, including two pregnant members of the Mangudadatu clan, were shot in their genitalia. Many of the other victims were beheaded and mutilated.

Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo after the arrests expelled the Ampatuans from her Lakas-CMD political party and declared a state of Martial Law in Mindanao.