|photo by Kiri Lluch Dalena|
Stronghold of the southland. Lords of political dynasty. Executioners. They are the Ampatuans. On November 23, 2009, they committed the most gruesome slaughter of 58 men and women. Fathers, mothers, sons, children, lawyers and journalists – mutilated, buried under piles of rubbles and dirt and smashed vehicles. Two years after, the soil of Maguindanao continue to crave for justice, papers bleed inks of mourning and still, two years after, the glaring impunity persists.
I’ll tell you the same story told harshly two years ago. In the morning of 23rd of November, Friday, 31 media workers together with the women of the Mangudadatu clan trailed the road leading to the capital Shariff Aguak. This was after Ismael Toto Mangudadatu declared his intention to run for governor, challenging its kings, the Ampatuans, once his allies. Fearing for his life, he sent his wife Jennalyn Mangudadatu and the others to file his certificate of candidacy, thinking since she’s a woman, barricaded by lawyers and the rolling cameras of media men, she will be safe. Only death found them.
It is a murder, so evil, Philippines became the most dangerous place in the world for the practice of journalism. Men and women, children and mere passersby, stripped of their own identity, bodies disfigured, buried by the same backhoe with imprints of perpetrators names.
Two years after, 197 people were accused, 93 were arrested of which 64 were arraigned whereas 87 people were presented as witnesses by the prosecution. Two years after, only two main suspects from the Ampatuan clan have been arraigned. The primary suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr. has not been arraigned for trial. Zaldy Ampatuan meanwhile appealed to the government to turn him state witness in exchange for testimony that could pin his family for murder.
Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, in an interview for dzMM says more than half of the entire numbers of suspects are still at large. He admitted case’s progress is very slow. In the words of a certain Joker Arroyo, he thinks this case might take 200 years to be presented and resolved. And that might be true and all, but if we look at a family who lost both its father and mother, when we listen to a son reminisce how he found his daddy’s piece of finger, eye out of it socket, while still convincing himself of that faint chance that the body might not be the same daddy who use to challenge him for a push-up match, tell me, should we count those 200 days and wait what lies ahead?
But we do not see 200 as 200 in the same way that we don’t see 58 as 58. Along with them died universes, a family that lost its father, a mother who lost his son with a promise of a better home for her and a news organization that lost its most promising young journalist. Lamentably, the current Aquino administration shows little interest in helping these families. Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma once said, "we will seriously look into this concern because this was a commitment made by the previous administration and we need to revisit this proposal.
Today, everyone speaks of the same names yet the gavel of justice has not given its verdict. The ghosts of the Ampatuan's private army continue to march within the grounds of their territories, scaring the living, reminding everyone how heads rolled at the mention of few names and nods of them warlords. The roll of justice's wheel is slow. The country’s justice system is flawed.
It is hard to believe. Sometimes, whenever I listen to their stories, I had to shake my head, convince myself that this is totally unthinkable. This could not have happened. When you are twenty four, twenty two when the massacre happened, you believe that there are innate goodness people possessed. But when you witness the counting of bodies, 48, 49, 50 and then another more under a Toyota Vios, under a certain Adventure and several more under many vans, you realize, death is always there in a country once called pearl of the orient.
Two years after, we tell the same sad tale, we march under the same battle and we cry the same plea of searching. Writing and telling stories about this massacre will not give much, I know that, and I’m sure all journalists knew that. We fight, not because 32 among our colleagues are killed in that certain highway, but because we are Filipinos second and humans first.
The end is still far from sight, but if we stop now, even for a second, in doing what we can in this arduous fight, not only we are condoning the murder of our 58 brothers, we also allow the Ampatuans to continuously mock us, continuously massacre our hope and repeatedly defy our pride and goodness as humans.
These are the names of 58:
Noel “Bogs” Decena
Alejandro “Bong” Reblando
Daryl delos Reyes
Santos “Jun” Gatchalian
Archie “Ace” David
Fernando “Ferdz” Mendoza
McDelbert “Macmac” Arriola
Gina dela Cruz
Bartolome “Bart” Maravilla
Napoleon “Nap” Salaysay
Concepcion “Connie” Brizuela