End of 10-year agony? Families of massacre victims see justice

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    FOR 57-year-old Catherine Nunez, the decade-long quest for justice for his son and the 57 other victims, including 32 print and broadcast journalists, of the gruesome 2009 Maguindanao massacre is finally set to end today as a Quezon City special court hands down its verdict against at least 100 defendants in custody.

    Judgment Day for the accused, among them members of the influential Ampatuan clan who allegedly masterminded the massacre, will be 9 a.m. at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

    In a telephone interview while she packed her things in their residence in Misamis Oriental for her flight to Manila to attend today’s promulgation, Nunez said the fight to get justice for her son Victor has been bittersweet.

    She recounted the difficulties and threats her family suffered and endured since the day that they were informed that Victor was among the 58 victims. Victor was a reporter for UNTV.

    Nunez said they are hopeful the court will finally render justice to her son and the other victims of the massacre.

    “Inaasahan po talaga namin na maibibigay sa amin ang hustisya makatapos ang sampung taon na paghihintay. Mahaba at mahirap po ang pinagdaanan namin sa pakikipaglaban at paghihintay sa araw na ito pero nauunawaan po namin ang korte (We are hopeful that we will finally get the justice that we have been waiting for 10 years already. It has been a long and difficult ordeal for us as we fought and waited for this, but we understand why there was a delay),” Nunez said.

    Nunez said she and the other relatives of the massacre victims who have continued to be in touch with each other can forgive the other accused, but not members of the Ampatuan clan.

    “Maaari ko silang mapatawad pero ‘yung mga prime suspect na sina Ampatuan, hindi.

    Marami kaming pinagdaanan na paghihirap dahil sa kagagawan nila (I can forgive the other accused but the Ampatuans. We suffered so much because of what they did),” she added.

    She acknowledged that the other accused soldiers and policemen who were part of the Ampatuan’s private army merely followed their employers’ orders.

    Among the Ampatuans charged as primary suspects in the case are former Maguindanao governor and the clan’s patriarch, Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons, former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan, former Ampatuan town mayor Datu Andal “Unsay’ Ampatuan Jr. and Sajid Islam Ampatuan.

    The other suspects are Datu Akmad “Tato’ Ampatuan, Datu Jimmy Ampatuan, Datu Kanor Ampatuan, Datu Bahnarin Ampatuan, Datu Mama Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr., Datu Ulo Ampatuan, Datu Ipi Ampatuan, Datu Harris Ampatuan and Datu Moning Ampatuan.

    Andal Sr. died in 2015 while under detention due to a lingering illness while Sajid and 11 other accused were allowed to post bail by the court.

    ‘GUILTY’ VERDICT

    Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu said he is expecting a guilty verdict against the Ampatuans and the rest of the accused.

    “Imposibleng walang makuhang maramihang guilty verdict lalo na sa major suspects pati sa mga nagplano. Positibo kami doon (It’s impossible not to secure many guilty verdicts against major suspects, including those who planned it. We’re positive on that),” Mangudadatu told reporters.

    Mangudadatu lost his wife, Bai Genalyn, and two sisters in the massacre.

    “Medyo nababagalan (It is kind of slow),” Mangudadatu said in an interview over GMA7 when asked about the court proceedings.

    He said the delay was due to the bulk of evidence presented by around 350 witnesses and the change of lawyers of the defense camp which, he added, delayed the trial.

    At the same time, he expressed regret over the deaths of the victims because of his candidacy, but he pointed out that it should have never happened in a democratic country like ours.

    “Meron akong bigat na nararamdaman pero sana hindi nangyari yun. May bigat. Mahirap mag-move on kasi may mga anak kami (I feel somewhat guilty, my heart is heavy. It has been difficult moving on especially since we have children),” he said.

    “Hindi sana nangyari ‘yun. Demokrasya tayo eh, dapat hinayaan na lang (na tumakbo ako).

    Hindi naman ito nakatitulo sa kanila (The incident should not have happened. We are a democracy, they should have just allowed me to run. They do not have exclusivity over the post)” he added.

    Mangudadatu was the vice mayor of Buluan town when he decided to challenge the Ampatuan’s hold to power in Maguindanao by running for the gubernatorial post in the 2010 elections which he eventually won.

    Other administration lawmakers believe that a guilty verdict would benefit President Duterte, too, because justice will be served under his administration.

    “This is another legacy-defining moment for the Duterte administration,” Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said. “I feel it’s no coincidence that a Mindanaoan president was sitting when the wheels of justice finally turned in favor of the victims’ families, or at the very least gave them closure regarding their harrowing experience that lasted over a decade. President Duterte will be remembered for this.”

    Deputy Speaker Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Norte said: “I think it will go down in history that the resolution of the Maguindanao Massacre case was done during the Duterte administration. Definitely, it will be one of his legacies.”

    “Even when he was a mayor he was already a true defender of justice, especially to the oppressed,” he said of Duterte, a former Davao City mayor.

    BACK IN JAIL

    Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan was discharged from the Makati Medical Center Wednesday afternoon where he was brought after suffering a stroke in October.

    Ampatuan was fetched from the hospital by heavily armed personnel from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and brought back to his detention cell at the Quezon City Jail-Annex, Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City at past 2pm.

    The BJMP personnel were augmented by personnel from the Makati police and the National Southern Police District.

    Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes ordered Zaldy’s return to jail as she denied the suspect’s bid to extend his stay at the MMC where he was undergoing physical therapy.

    Solis-Reyes said that based on the accused’ medical abstract/discharge summary, Ampatuan is already stable with no more complaint of dizziness and headache.

    The medical report, the court said, also indicated that the accused is ambulatory, and that his lower extremities are stronger than the upper ones.

    Zaldy suffered a stroke on October 22 and was first brought to the Taguig-Pateros District Hospital before he was transferred to the MMC.

    Government prosecutors have opposed Ampatuan’s continued stay at the MMC, saying he might use his confinement as an escape opportunity.

    Lawyer Harry Roque said he believes the Ampatuan clan is trying to ensure that Zaldy is acquitted to ensure their political clout in Maguindanao.

    “There seems to be a concerted effort among the Ampatuan family to spare Zaldy because I think they need to continue their political powers so they have to choose between Zaldy and Unsay (Andal Ampatuan Jr),” he said in an interview in ABS CBN News Channel.

    He said that between Zaldy and Andal Jr., the clan will always go for the former in their effort to preserve their hold on the province.

    Andal Jr. is also among those charged in connection with the murder cases.

    Roque said he is confident that Andal Jr.will be held liable for the massacre.

    “I think the betting tomorrow is not about whether Unsay will be held liable because I think eyewitness testimonies would probably hold him liable. The issue is will Zaldy be held liable?” Roque said.

    Roque is the lawyer for the relatives of more than a dozen massacre victims.

    Roque said another Ampatuan sibling, Sajid Islam, might also be freed, pointing out that the court has agreed to release him in bail in 2015 because evidence presented by the prosecution against him were not strong.

    Sajid Islam paid a total of P11.6 million for his temporary liberty.

    Meanwhile, the PNP appealed for sobriety as the public awaits the judgment against the Maguindanao massacre suspects.

    “The PNP urges the public to remain calm, but alert and vigilant,” said PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.

    Banac assured that the National Capital Region Police Office, under Brig. Gen Debold Sina, has tightened security in anticipation of the promulgation.

    “At the moment, we have not received any validated threat against security but we assure Rep. Esmael ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu and all families of the victims that their security remains paramount,” said Banac.

    Banac said the PNP is ready to provide additional security detail, through the Police Security and Protection Group, “when requested, subject to existing laws and policies.”

    “Whatever the verdict, the PNP will assure that the decision of the court will be upheld,” said Banac. – With Wendell Vigilia and Victor Reyes