Today, November 23, 2018, is the ninth year since a power-crazed madman and his armed minions, among them members of the police, halted a convoy on the national highway in Barangay Saqlman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao and herded the passengers, along with those of two vehicles that just happened to pass by, to a hilltop in Sitio Masalay and slaughtered them.
In the convoy were relatives and supporters of then Buluan town vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who intended to file his candidacy for governor of Maguindanao against Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., scion of the powerful clan that ruled the province, and 32 journalists who were there to cover the proceedings.
All in all, 58 persons died, making the Ampatuan massacre both the worst case of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack on the press ever recorded.
One would expect that justice would be swift in coming for a crime that literally shocked the world, so horrendous was it in both cruelty and scale. But no, the Justice department of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo chose to file what legal experts then called as “case designed to fail,” charging more than 190 persons instead of concentrating first on the principal suspects, key members of the Ampatuan clan, thus ensuring that the prosecution would stretch on for years. The most optimistic opinion on when the earliest conviction could be expected was 10 years.
A year short of that prediction, it is but right for the victims’ families, tired of the extremely slow pace of the trial, to shout “Justice Now” and “Convict Ampatuan.”
In fact, signaling their impatience, this year’s observance had the families of both non-media and media victims coming together to remember and honor their loved ones and, together, demand the justice they have long been deprived of.
While we are heartened by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s statement that a conviction may, at last, be forthcoming, we also hope this does not signal any intervention by the executive branch that could lead to a miscarriage of justice.
And while a closure to this tragedy is most welcome, we stress that it should not in any way detract from the State’s continued accountability for its continued failure to bring an end to the threats and attacks against journalists and to give justice to the more than 100 other victims of media killings since 1986.