Kin of Ampatuan massacre victims relieved, surprised with verdict
By Richelyn Gubalani
GENERAL SANTOS CITY (Philippines News Agency) — A tense silence gripped the crowd inside a chapel at the old Catholic parish novitiate here as the guilty verdict was finally meted on Thursday morning against the principal suspects in the grisly Ampatuan massacre.
The muted cries came as the crowd of around 100 people–composed of media workers and family members of the slain journalists in the massacre–watched in disbelief as several other suspects were “unexpectedly” pronounced as “not guilty” by the court.
The reactions summed up the sentiments of the victim’s families who gathered at the parish novitiate in Barangay Lagao here for the viewing of the promulgation of judgment, which was televised live from the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 annex in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Ronnie Perante Jr., son of slain tabloid reporter Ronnie Sr., said the verdict was both a relief and shock for them.
“We’re happy that the main suspects were found guilty. But we don’t understand why the others were acquitted,” he told PNA after the verdict was announced.
He was referring to the conviction of the accused masterminds, specifically former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and brother Zaldy, the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
The two were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison without parole for conspiring and directly taking part in the killing of 58 people, including 32 media workers, in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.
But their brother Sajid, a former Maguindanao vice governor and the current mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, was acquitted.
Perante, who was only eight-years-old when the massacre happened, said they had hoped for the conviction of all the suspects.
“This is not a total victory for us. The fight for justice is not yet over for now,” he said.
Jhan Chiene Maravilla, daughter of the slain Bombo Radyo Koronadal chief reporter Bart, echoed Perante’s sentiments saying she was surprised with the verdict.
Aside from the acquittal of Sajid and several Ampatuans, she also expressed disappointment over the exoneration of 12 policemen and the reduced sentences for several others who were charged as accessories.
Maravilla believed the prosecution had presented enough evidence to convict all 197 accused, with 80 of them still at-large.
“We will continue to fight. I’m not yet ready to forgive them,” she told reporters.
Fr. Rey Carvyn Ondap, executive director of the Passionist Center for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, said he was happy with the conviction of the principal suspects, which he described as the “first step” to the quest for justice.
“We still want a total conviction of the suspects,” he said in a press conference.
The priest, who led a mass prior to the promulgation, said the center will continue to stand by the families of the massacre victims no matter how long it will take.
Following the release of the verdict, Ondap said he is concerned with the security of the victim’s families and urged the national and local governments to protect them.
“That is a major concern now because many were acquitted,” he said. (PNA)