Ampatuan massacre verdict: Partial justice against impunity

OPINION
December 19, 2019

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Editor's Note: Below is the unedited statement of Barug Katungod Mindanao on the recent Ampatuan massacre verdict

IN a country labeled as one of the deadliest for journalists, human rights advocates, and farmers, today’s verdict on the Ampatuan massacre is a momentary respite from reigning injustice.  It gives precedent for all victims of human rights abuses to never waver in seeking accountability and justice in a country where impunity and corruption is deeply embedded in the justice system.

But the quest for justice is not over. The political machinery of the Ampatuan warlord clan remains robust with at least 36 local government positions won in the last 2016 elections – 19 carrying the Ampatuan names while the rest their relatives – making them the “fattest” political dynasty in the country.[https://mail.yahoo.com/d/folders/1/messages/104146#_ftn1] Their economic power should also not be underestimated as they own “597 bank accounts, 500 hectares of real property assets, 130 motor vehicles, 420 firearms, and a private army of many hundreds”[https://mail.yahoo.com/d/folders/1/messages/104146#_ftn2] according to a recent investigative report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

The Ampatuans continue to be of value to the system of patronage politics in the country where politicians eyeing national posts have kept communities under the control of warlords to deliver electoral votes. We must remember that the Maguindanao massacre had been enabled by this symbiotic relationship between national politicians and local warlords.

Most of all, the essence of Executive Order 546 which employs the use of paramilitaries as ‘multiplier forces’ as an adjunct to the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ counter-insurgency campaign continues to reign under President Duterte. EO 546 was President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s decree that allowed the unhampered build-up of the Ampatuan private army abetted by the military and police.

Thus, while we breathe a sigh of brief relief brought about by the conviction of a partial number of suspects as 80 more are at large, we must remain vigilant as the Ampatuans appeal to the higher courts to ensure that there is no reversal of the verdict.

We are also apprehensive that other relatives like Sajid Islam Ampatuan, Datu Akmad Tato Ampatuan, Jimmy Ampatuan, and some police officers were acquitted.  The acquittal does not curb the Ampatuan machinery from perpetrating more criminal acts and threatening families of victims and the courageous witnesses in the trial, an ordeal we have seen in the last 10 years.

But we celebrate this momentous ruling by Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Solis as a victory for people’s vigilance throughout the 10 years since the massacre was perpetrated on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

The court found former Datu Unsay Ampatuan mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, former ARMM governor Zandy Ampatuan, and 25 of their ilk “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” and meted the penalty of reclusion perpetua without parole. Several others were also sentenced to imprisonment as accessories to the crime.

We commend the relentless efforts of the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines who kept the flame in the quest for justice for 32 media persons, the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao who kept the memory of Attorneys Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo, and the Justice Now Movement as the most steadfast organization of the kin of all the victims.

The people’s movement has led to today’s victory. Our vigilance was expressed through an unwavering campaign for justice and accountability against the perpetrators of the massacre, mobilization of volunteers and networks in the conduct of fact finding missions, assistance to the families of victims, forums, lobbying to policy makers, and protests in the streets.

Barug Katungod Mindanao stands with the families of the victims of one of the deadliest massacre in recent Philippine history where the Ampatuans and their goons murdered and inhumanely buried 58 persons that include 32 journalists and media workers, 2 lawyers, and the wife of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who was at that time the vice-mayor of Buluan town in Maguindanao, along with other Mangudadatu relatives, and 6 motorists who were just passing by the vicinity.

We must also remain militant since the system that fuels this impunity still reigns supreme. Extra-judicial killings in Mindanao is still going on, a total to 162 victims fell since Duterte came to power. Hundreds of journalists, lawyers, community leaders, and even churchpeople are still victims of vilification, illegal arrests, and other forms of state repression. Executive Order 546 is still in effect. Now, President Duterte’s Martial Law in Mindanao and Executive Order 70 is reinforcing this vicious system.

Today, justice is served. Tomorrow, we continue the fight.

Bishop Redeemer Yañez
Spokesperson, Barug Katungod


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