Six years ago, in one of the country’s worst cases of election-related violence, 58 people were accosted by armed men, brought to Sitio Magating in Brgy. Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao, gunned down, and buried in mass graves.
Of the 58, at least five were innocent by-standers mistaken as part of the convoy, 34 were journalists, and the rest were clan members and lawyers of Esmael Mangudadatu, then Vice Mayor of Buluan Town, on their way to the Maguindanao capital of Shariff Aguak to file his candidacy for Governor. At least 21 of the women showed signs of sexual assault, and a majority of the bodies were found either shot in the genitals or directly in the face, rendering them next to impossible to identify.
Six years since this heinous act, one of the most violent crimes in recent memory, was committed with impunity. To this day, the Supreme Court has yet to settle the case. Here’s what the last six years have accomplished in terms of justice for the families of the 58 victims.
Andal Ampatuan, Sr. and over a dozen of his family members were arrested the same year. Andal Jr., along with other members of the Ampatuan clan, including former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, are still in prison while being tried for the crime.
In 2010, charges against Zaldy Ampatuan and brother-in-law Akhmad were dropped and the two were moved to a maximum security prison.
Close to 100 of the names on the list of suspects have yet to be charged or even accounted for.
In 2012, the Supreme Court granted the petition filed by the Ampatuans to disallow live media coverage of the court hearings. A live feed will be provided in the camps in areas where the families of the victims currently reside, and audio-visual recordings will be allowed for documentation, but the court ruled that live-aired coverage could affect the public view of the high-profile proceedings.
In 2014, 42 policemen were allowed to post bail and were released. Just this January, after five years of incarceration, Sajid Ampatuan, another son of Andal Ampatuan, Sr., posted bail amounting to P11.6M (P200k per count of murder). Sajid is now running for Mayor of Shariff Aguak, a post his father used to hold.
Zaldy and Anwar Sr.’s pleas for bail have so far been denied. The bail plea of primary accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. is currently pending before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
Andal Ampatuan Sr. was released under hospital arrest in June 2015, and died shortly after on July 17 at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute following complications from liver cancer. He passed away maintaining his innocence, without being convicted of the crimes charged against him.
Sajid declared that his father’s death does not mean the end of the Ampatuan reign in Maguindanao.
In the last six years, more than 150 witnesses have come forward, some of them killed or ambushed after delivering their testimonies. Thousands of pieces of documentary evidence has been found in the raid of the Ampatuan home following a search of the premises, along with guns and ammunition matching those that were used on the victims found at the crime scene.
The families of the victims are represented in court by Prima Quinsayas, lawyer of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. The FFFJ has run out of funds, and along with the Justice Now Movement (JNM) hope for a Supreme Court ruling soon against the moneyed Ampatuan clan.
Following criticism that movement in the case has been moving albeit very slowly, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno says that the trial is already being “expedited at the maximum.”
Sereno also says that by allowing Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to be in charge of the proceedings and appointing an assisting judge to handle concerns that “do not tackle the merits of the case”, the Supreme court has done its part.
Ampatuan defense lawyer Salvador Panelo maintains his client’s innocence, stating that the Ampatuans are being framed for a crime that they did not commit. As of this writing, the Ampatuans have yet to present evidence in their defense to the court.
In 2010, current President Noynoy Aquino promised that upon election he would resolve the massacre during his term. With elections coming up next year, this promise has yet to be delivered upon, and the families of the victims are losing hope that a ruling will be passed.
According to Grace Morales, secretary general of the JNM, their case is relying heavily on the state-appointed prosecutors appointed by the Department of Justice, but the DOJ has yet to give them any case updates.
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