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11 years on, Ampatuan massacre victims still crying out for justice

By Bim Santos Published Nov 23, 2020 7:00 am Updated Nov 23, 2020 7:02 am

Eleven years after the deadliest election-related violence in the country where 58 people were killed, victims of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao are still fighting for justice after a 2019 court ruling only rendered “partial justice.”

“We are still here because there are still matters that have to be considerd and acted upon because the fight is not yet over,” said lawyer Nena Santos, who represents a number of massacre victims, in an online press forum.

In the press forum organized by the "Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network," victims and other organizations voiced out the ongoing quest for justice and vowed to keep up the fight.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 sentenced on Dec. 19, 2019 members of the Ampatuan clan for the massacre. Brothers Zaldy and Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan along with 26 others were found guilty beyond reasonable doubt for 57 counts of murder and sentenced to up to 40 years in prison with no parole.

But since the historic ruling, only four have been reported arrested while others remain at large.

“Pano pa nila nasasabi na tapos na yung kaso sa mga pamilya ngayong ika 11th year pero nandito pa rin kami lumalaban,” said Mary Grace Morales, who lost her husband and sister in the event.

Morales, along with the other victims, have appealed to the Court of Appeals for higher damages from the P155.6 million ordered by Solis-Reyes to the victims.

In a Facebook post, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) also called for "continued vigilance" on the case.

The family of Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay also appealed to the Court of Appeals, after his murder was junked at the Quezon City court. He was part of the convoy that was intercepted by the Ampatuan clan but his body was never found, with his family fighting for years for his case to be recognized as the 58th victim.

“Nananawagan pa rin kami ng hustisya kasi hindi pa rin buo yung hustisyang nakuha namin,” Morales said.

The camp of the Ampatuan have also filed appeals to overurn their conviction.

The 58 people killed in the massacre included 32 media workers. The victims were part of the convoy that was on the way to the Commission on Elections office to file the certificate of candidacy for provincial governor of Toto Mangudadatu, a rival of the Ampatuans, before they were intercepted, gunned down, and buried on site.

"It remains very clear that the massacre case is far from resolved. The convictions are being appealed, as are the civil damages by the victims' families. And 76 suspects are still at large. Which is why we join the families of the victims in declaring: We still #FIGHTFOR58,” said Nonoy Espina, chair of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

The New York-based group Committee to Protect Journlists (CPJ) consider the Ampatuan massacre as “the deadliest attack on the press ever recorded.”

This year, the ranking of the Philippines in the CPJ’s Global Impunity Index slightly improved, from being among the top 5th deadliest place for journalists to 7th. This is because the Ampatuan massacre “no longer falls into the 10-year time frame for calculating the index.”

But attacks against press freedom continue.

As shown by the CMFR tally below, there have 194 recorded incidents of threats and attacks against journalists since 2016 to date.