Maguindanao and the stigma of ‘Ampatuan massacre’
By Noel Punzalan
COTABATO CITY (Philippines News Agency) – The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre, took place 10 years ago but the trauma it brought remains in the hearts and minds of Maguindanaons.
To date, development continues to pour into Maguindanao, with regional and local officials trying to expunge the stigma left behind by the gruesome carnage that shocked not only the country but also the world.
Life in neighboring Shariff Aguak and Ampatuan towns in Maguindanao remains relatively normal 10 years after the infamous Maguindanao Massacre that snuffed off the lives of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers.
Shariff Aguak is the hometown of the Ampatuans while the neighboring Ampatuan town is where the ill-reputed massacre, described as the single, worst election-related violence in Philippine political history, took place on Nov. 23, 2009.
The promulgation of the case, which was handled from the start by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, is set to take place on Thursday (December 19), inside the police’s Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, with more than 200 police personnel from the Philippine National Police-National Capital Regional Office expected to secure the venue.
More than a hundred of the 197 accused, led by the principal suspect, former Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., are due for sentencing. At least 80 other suspects remained at-large.
Other accused Ampatuans that include former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and about a dozen other clan members are also facing potential life sentences.
The clan’s accused patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr., died from a complicated illness at a Quezon City hospital on July 17, 2015, where he was brought after complaining of chest and abdominal pains while under detention.
Rule of law
“The rule of law must prevail. They (Ampatuan relatives) should respect that,” said lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, Minister of the Interior and Local Government in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), in an interview by the Philippine News Agency on Monday.
Sinarimbo, also the concurrent BARMM spokesperson, maintained though that amid the forthcoming promulgation, no adverse reactions were monitored coming from the Ampatuan clan.
For now, he said the people of Maguindanao seemed to be appeased that the principal suspects in the killing are incarcerated and about to be handed down the verdict.
“We are continuously monitoring and coordinating with local security sectors with the peace and order situation in the province and so far, everything seems good,” Sinarimbo said, referring to Maguindanao that now belonged to BARMM, the fledging political entity that replaced earlier this year the decades-old ARMM set-up.
In Shariff Aguak, development has slowly poured into the once-feared Ampatuan bailiwick with various business establishments sprouting over the past 10 years, with the town currently handled by Mayor Marop Ampatuan, a 37-year-old educated, well mannered and approachable relative of the jailed Ampatuans.
Marop, an engineer by profession, is the eldest among the children of Hadji Datu Akmad B. Ampatuan and Hadja Bai Tarhata Batabol-Ampatuan.
His grandfather, Hadji Datu Mohammad Ampatuan is the elder brother of Andal Ampatuan Sr. In Ampatuan town, a vast banana plantation now occupies the big part of Barangay Salman, giving employment to mostly relatives of the suspects whose lives are affected by the stigma brought by the massacre.
“Let us admit it, the Ampatuan clan is a big one and they are there to stay, and just like any other family, there are the bad ones and the good ones,” Sinarimbo said.
On Nov. 23, 2009, a convoy of vehicles carrying the 58 victims were on their way to Shariff Aguak, the capital of the province, to file the certificate of candidacy for governor of the then-gubernatorial candidate and current Maguindanao 2nd district Representative Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
The convoy, however, was believed to have been blocked by over 100 men being led by Datu Unsay along the stretch of the highway in Ampatuan town.
The victims were then herded to the interiors of hilly Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, where they were brutally executed.
The victims’ families and various media groups, including the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, are all hoping for Thursday’s verdict for justice to be finally served.
Congressman Mangudadatu, for his part, earlier said that a conviction of the suspects could let him rest in his fight for justice for the massacre victims, which included his family members.
“If it comes to the point that has to do it alone in fighting for justice for my wife, sisters, relatives, and all the other victims, I will,” he said. (PNA)