By Ali Macabalang
AMPATUAN, Maguindanao – Relatives and supporters of victims in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre are hopeful of finally attaining justice in the remaining 30 days of the trial set by the court to promulgate a decision.
Maguindanao (2nd District) Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, whose justice-yearning family organized a gathering on Saturday at sitio Masalay in Barangay Slaman here to remember the victims of the carnage, was more blunt in anticipating a favorable result in the trial.
Mangudadatu, who lost his wife, two sisters, two lawyers and other female relatives, has pledged to resign his current post if the court would not render a “guilty verdict” on at least the principal suspects in the carnage.
“We are more upbeat this time about attaining the long-awaited justice,” he told The Manila Bulletin by phone Friday night, saying hundreds of kin and supporters were poised to trek anew to the hilly massacre site here in about 100 vehicles.
In last year’s anniversary of the massacre, tagged as the country’s bloodiest election-related incident, Muslim kin and supporters of victims performed for the first time a congregational Islamic prayer to implore the dispensation of justice within a year or two.
Thirty two (32) of the 58 victims were media workers, and their death was deemed the world’s deadliest single attack on journalists.
The slain media workers joined the ill-fated convoy of vehicles to provide coverage for the supposed filing of certificate of gubernatorial candidacy of then Buluan town Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu at the provincial elections office in Shariff Aguak, which is adjacent to this town.
Contrary to some published reports, Mangudadatu was not in the convoy because his wife, Genalyn, and two sisters accompanied by two lady lawyers took the cudgels to file his candidacy, purportedly thinking that protagonists in Moro politics would not harm women as stiffly forbidden in Islam.
Their presumption turned out wrong as more than 100 armed men, allegedly led by Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., waylaid the convoy along the highway and herded the victims to the secluded and hilly Sitio Masalay here where all the 58 victims were executed and buried in two big pits dug earlier by a government-owned backhoe.
Mangudadatu recalled having constant communication link with his ill-fated kin by phone, saying the last contact was recorded before noon on Nov. 23, 2009 with his wife complaining of being “swarmed by armed men led by Unsay.”
“My wife sustained 17 bullet wounds and a hack in her back,” Mangudadatu said.
The Supreme Court has recently granted the request of Quezon City Regional Trial Court-Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for a 30-day extension in her litigation process. She cited “the voluminous records of these cases which have now reached 238 volumes,” including transcripts and the prosecution’s evidences.
The 30-day timeline will lapse by coming Dec. 20 this year, during which lawyers Nena Santos and Harry Roque as prosecutors for the families of victims would anticipate a “guilty verdict” as sort of “Christmas gift” for justice seekers.
The two private prosecutors said a contrary decision will be “unacceptable” to mean the “death of press freedom” in the country.
Over 100 of the 197 accused, including Andal Jr. and his brother, former Muslim Mindanao regional governor Zaldy Ampatuan, are awaiting sentence. Eleven of the accused are out on bail such as former Maguindanao governor Sajid Ampatuan, the duo’s brother. Clan patriarch and fellow principal suspect Andal Sr. died in detention on July 17, 2015.
Two accused were discharged as state witnesses, while cases for six others have been dropped and 80 others have remained at large.
“We are not sure of the 100 percent (conviction) but we are sure that the principal accused will be convicted,” Santos said of the possible verdict.