Release of accessories to Ampatuan massacre worries victims’ families

In this file photo, a backhoe pulls the wreckage of one of three vehicles dumped together with massacre victims along a hillside grave in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province, Southern Philippines, November 25, 2009.

FAMILIES of the Ampatuan massacre victims in Maguindanao have expressed uneasiness over the possibility that some of those found guilty as accessories to the crime in 2019 by the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City court might be freed soon even though 80 other accused have remained at large.

At Wednesday’s virtual roundtable discussion on the 12th anniversary of the massacre hosted by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the families lamented that full justice has yet to be served on them more than a decade since the crime happened.

A total of 29 accused, led by former Maguindanao Mayor Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. and his brother Zaldy—a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao —have been convicted as principals  for 57 counts of murder.


On the other hand, 16 of the 101 accused were meted only with six to 10 years of imprisonment for being accessories to the crime while 58 were acquitted on the ground of reasonable doubt and failure of the prosecution to present evidence to prove their guilt.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra disclosed that the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) is now reviewing the time credit allowances of some of those convicted as accessories to the crime, considering that they might have already served their prison sentence of six to 10 years.

Reacting to the possibility of their release soon, Reynafe Momay-Castillo whose father, Reynaldo, is believed to be among the 58 people killed in Maguindanao, said such possibility raises security concerns for  families who vigorously pursued the case against them.

Castillo, who is now living in the United States, said 10 years of imprisonment for those tagged as accessories in the crime were not enough considering their vital role in making the crime possible.

“I don’t know what to feel right now after knowing that they might be released soon. Security-wise, I’m concerned for the families who are still there. They (accused) are not human, we do not  know what is in their minds … For me, 10 years is not enough, a life term I think that would suffice,” Castillo said.

Reynaldo has yet to be considered by the court as one of the victims of the massacre since his body was never found; only a set of dentures that the family said  belongs to the victim were seen.

Mary Grace Morales who lost her husband Rosell and sister Marites Cablitas in the massacre, also doubted that 10 years in jail are enough for the accessories.

“I don’t know if there is still anything we can do about it because it went through court proceedings already.  If they have already served their sentence, I don’t know if it is right to say that is already enough for them because they were part of the massacre,” Morales said

Rosell was a reporter for News Focus while Cablitas was a reporter for radio DxBX when they were killed.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice’s panel of prosecutors handling the Ampatuan case led by Deputy State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas assured the families that the panel stays committed to prosecute all those involved in the massacre.

“While we are here in the department, that is our commitment to the Secretary of Justice. There are still 80-plus accused who are at large so while we are here, we assure you that we will show the same commitment and same passion in prosecuting them,” Torrevillas said.

The massacre was the single, deadliest attack on journalists in
history and the worst election-related violence in the country.

It took place on November 23, 2009 in Sitio Masalay, Buluan town in Maguindanao.

The journalists were invited by then Buluan Vice Mayor and now  Maguindanao 2nd District Representative Esmael Mangudadatu  Esmael Mangudadatu to cover the scheduled filing of his COC  at the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak.

Around 200 armed men, mostly belonging to state-sanctioned paramilitary forces which they used as their private army, intercepted the convoy, led by Mangudadatu’s wife, and escorted them  to Buluan town in Ampatuan where they were told to get off their vehicles.

The victims were slaughtered and buried in hastily-dug graves using a government-owned excavator.

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