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'To forget is not an option:' Calls for justice continue to pour in 12 years after the Maguindanao massacre

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Nov 23, 2021 8:31 pm

On its 12th anniversary, calls for justice are still being heralded for victims of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao.

Dubbed as the world's deadliest attack on journalists, 58 people, 32 of those being media practitioners, were on their way to the Commission on Elections office to file the certificate of candidacy for the provincial governor of Toto Mangudadatu, a rival of the Ampatuan political clan, when their convoy was intercepted and they were gunned down and buried on site.

Ten years later, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court made the 2009 ruling that found 43 people and eight members of the Ampatuan clan guilty to 57 counts of murder led by Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy Ampatuan.

The ruling has been dubbed as only "partial justice", as photojournalist Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay Jr. was not included in the list of victims because his body was never found.

Reynaldo's daughter, Ma. Reynafe Castillo, continues to call justice for her father to be formally recognized as the 58th victim of the Ampatuans.

"Year after year, on November 23rd, I am forced to understand my own loss," Castillo said in a Nov. 22 video statement. "Telling myself that everyday I get to live, I get to live to fight."

She declared that she will continue to fight for accountability for her father's death.

"With more than a decade, two presidents have already ended their terms of office and up to now I am still the daughter of the 58th victim of [the] Maguindanao massacre."

"I want to fight forward to end with justice being served. To forget is not an option. What I'm doing now is to fight forward."

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) echoed Castillo's call for justice.

"Even as the families wait for further developments in the case, justice is even more elusive for the family of Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay Jr., who was not included among the victims of the massacre because his remains have yet to be found," the NUJP wrote.

"We join his daughter Reynafe Momay-Castillo and the other families in asserting that there were 58 victims of the 2009 massacre. We continue to #FightFor58 because, like for the families, forgetting is not an option and will never be an option."

They also dedicated the day to the media practitioners in the country who face the loss of press freedom. "In the constantly changing media landscape, attacks are no longer limited to physical ones," they added.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) also urged Filipinos to continue to remain vigilant in the case against the Ampatuans.

"The fight for justice continues even after the court convicted several suspects in the 2009 #AmpatuanMassacre," CMFR wrote.

"Only 117 of the 197 named accused were tried, with only 43 convicted in December 2019. Eighty other accused have yet to be sentenced; 75 of them, still at large. The convictions can still be overturned in the process of an appeal."

 Meanwhile, the Philippines ranks 136th out of 183 countries in media watchdog Reporters Without Border's World Press Freedom index.

The index rates press freedom in 180 countries on the basis of pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

Reports Without Borders has also included President Rodrigo Duterte as one of the world leaders in their 'Press Freedom Predators' list of 2021.

(Banner: Various activist groups held a noise barrage and solidarity protest at the Roces Circle in Quezon City to commemorate the 12th year of the Maguindanao massacre on Tuesday.)