Maguindanao massacre victims’ kin hail court’s guilty verdict
By Christopher Lloyd Caliwan
MANILA — The long wait for justice has come to an end for the families of the 57 victims, mostly journalists, of the Maguindanao massacre on Thursday.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu said the decision was fair despite acquitting former acting Maguindanao governor and now Shariff Saydona Mustapha Mayor Sajid Ampatuan and several policemen.
“Nakakalungkot na masaya, fair naman (I’m both happy and sad. It was fair). Bagama’t hindi lahat ng akusado ay nahatulan ng pagkakakulong, kami ay nagagalak pa rin dahil ang mga dapat masakdal ay nakatakda ng makulong pang habang-buhay (While not all the accused were sentenced to jail, we are still happy because those who deserved to be prosecuted will finally be behind bars for life),” Mangudadatu told reporters in a chance interview after the promulgation held at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) annex inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Mangudadatu said the ruling proven that the decade-long wait for justice became fruitful and that justice is alive in the country.
“Hindi kailanman magiging mali ang pagpili sa tama at pagtitiwala ng lubos sa Diyos at sa ating Saligang Batas (It will never be wrong to choose the right thing, to trust in God and the Constitution),” he said.
He also thanked all the media who kept an eye on the case from the start until the promulgation
Arlene Ompag, relative of UNTV cameraman Mac Guilbert Arriola, who was among those mercilessly executed, shared Mangudadatu’s views.
“It’s a mixed of happiness and sadness,” said Ompag in chance interview.
Ompag said it made them angry when those responsible would flatly deny their involvement and confidently claim innocence but the decision was sweet after 10 years of tedious legal battle.
“Justice was finally served. It’s long but it’s worth the wait because almost all of the principal suspects were convicted. We have been waiting for this, I did not even notice that it’s now 10 years but we are all happy,” Ompag noted.
Noemi Parcon, wife of local newspaper publisher Joel Parcon who was among those killed, said had already forgiven the policemen involved.
“I began to understand their situation because they are just following orders, their choice then is either they follow the order or be killed,” Parcon said in a separate interview.
Parcon said the policemen have already paid the price of being an accessory to the crime with their almost 10 years in detention.
“We also filed an administrative case against them and they were already dismissed. I think they already suffered enough and I have already forgiven them,” she added.
Meanwhile, the Defense Press Corps said the court’s ruling sends a strong message against perpetrators of attacks on media workers.
“A decade later we have not forgotten and remain vigilant against all forms of impunity. The guilty verdict against the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre must serve as a clarion cry against violence, harassment, and oppression directed at society’s vanguards of truth – the fourth estate,” it said in a statement.
While citing that the families of the victims may have been given justice, the group said it will remain steadfast in its duty to “speak for the voiceless and call out tyranny where it takes root”.
Kin of acquitted cops happy
Aside from the victims, relatives of implicated police officers who were acquitted welcomed the court’s ruling.
Caroline Kadtong, wife Cpl. Jimmy Kadtong, said her husband is finally cleared of a crime which he did not commit.
“Sobrang masaya kami dahil naabswelto dahil after 10 years nakuha namin yung kalayaan. Napakahirap nung dumadalaw kami, ulan, bagyo, baha, para lang mabigyan namin ng pagkain (We are happy because after 10 years, we finally got freedom. It’s so difficult to visit him and go through rains, storms and floods just to give him food),” she said.
Caroline said on Nov. 23, 2009, her husband was cooking their meal in their house and was included as accused merely because he was assigned in the area of the crime.
Mariben Donato, sister of Sgt. Oscar Donato, said her brother is just awaiting a detail order to be assigned in a different area when the incident occurred.
“Una nagpapasalamat ako sa Diyos dalangin namin noon at hanggang ngyon dininig ang panalangin namin (First, I am thanking God for listening to our prayers until now),” Mariben said.
On Thursday, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes found Datu Andal Unsay Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan Sr., and several others guilty of 57 counts of murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment without parole.
Solis-Reyes arrived at around 10:30 a.m., or more than one hour late from the scheduled start of the promulgation then started at around 11 a.m. through a roll call of all of the arrested accused. (with reports from Priam Nepomuceno/PNA)