THE wheels of justice move slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.
This was again proven at the reading of the verdict in the 10-year Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre case, that gruesome killings of 58 people which included 32 media practitioners on November 23, 2009.
We can just imagine the difficulty encountered and emotional stress, even perhaps threats to life and intimidation, suffered by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, the government and private prosecutors, and all those directly involved in the judicial process that led to the final court ruling that established the guilt of Zaldy Ampatuan, Unsay Ampatuan and several others in the gory murders. Zaldy, Unsay, Anwar and a dozen other Ampatuans did not only commit murder, as established by the court. They also degraded the once revered title of “Datu” in the regions of Muslim Mindanao, and should be ashamed of this throughout the 40 years of imprisonment that they have to serve starting today.
They should also be ashamed – and made to account – for the use of government property and personnel in committing the crime of mass murders, for public money was clearly used in oppressing the tax-paying public, some of them just passing through the highway when the infamous kidnapping at their checkpoint was made, and some of them mediamen just doing their job.
Atty. Harry Roque, who represented some of the victims, particularly reporter Bong Reblando of Gen. Santos City, noted in a recent radio interview that the Maguindanao massacre was a tragedy waiting to happen, the natural result of the rule of feudalism in the predominantly Muslim and poverty-stricken countryside.
Maguindanao under the Ampatuans had been a feudal enclave co-existing with the Republic of the Philippines, but as an enclave was ruled by local warlords whose word was law and had the power of life and death over its residents. Nobody dared to displease patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his family, and nobody was allowed to challenge their political and economic power in the province. Violence became an expected reaction when then Buluan Vice-Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangundadatu showed his defiance of his relatives by contesting the governorship of the province. On the way to filing his certificate of candidacy for governor, then carried by his wife, an ambush or kidnapping was imminent.
After a few deaths and dismissals, only 101 respondents remained in detention leading to the promulgation of the court decision at the BJMP building in Taguig yesterday. A majority of these guilty parties were active officers and members of the Philippine National Police, which makes their crime even more heinous because they were being paid by the Filipino people precisely to maintain peace and order. Most likely, they were also paid by the Ampatuan clan to work part-time or full-time as bodyguards and private army henchmen.
Atty. Roque talked about a young man who was separated by the powerful clan from his family at the young age of 11 to live with the Ampatuans to be trained as a loyal bodyguard, one who would obey the bidding of his master. Such is the feudal social setup in Maguindanao at the turn of the millennium, and continues up to today.
As the lives of 58 victims ended in that backhoe-dug excavation in forested Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao in 2009, the Filipino people would have liked that the case should end yesterday with the verdict as written by Judge Solis-Reyes, but of course it won’t. Warrants of arrest had been issued by the court to intensify the hunt for those who still at large, and this early, Toto Mangundadatu said they are preparing for another legal battle as the Ampatuans are sure to appeal the decision in the higher court. The quest for justice continues.
Unfortunately for most of us, that is the way the justice system works in the Philippines. We commend Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes and the government prosecutors for establishing and affirming the guilt of the perpetrators and for freeing from detention those who are not exactly innocent but were lucky enough to be saved by the legal dictum of doubt.