Sunday, October 17, 2021

Velez: Remembering 11-23


THEY say time heals wounds, but not all of them. Not here, where justice grinds, slowly.

Exactly today is the tenth year of the Ampatuan massacre. Fifty-eight people were murdered on that day, including 32 journalists, in the worse election-related violence and attack on press freedom in Philippine history.

Included among the dead are women, pregnant women, a human rights lawyer representing the opposition candidate, and a family traveling that road at the wrong time.

The pictures of their gruesome deaths, their mangled bloodied bodies recovered in a deserted hill stirred our anger over the reign of impunity embodied by the perpetrators, the feared Ampatuan clan who once ruled Maguindanao province.

The mention of their name will bring stories, told in whispers, of how political rivals are killed in gruesome ways like using a chainsaw, of elections being rigged liked the one that won the presidency for Arroyo in 2004, and of their display of wealth and power with their huge mansion in Davao City and their long convoy of black vehicles.

They thought they could get away with this monstrosity. But not this time. Vigilance and public outrage helped push the Ampatuans to surrender.

We raged on the streets, we cried for justice in our statements. We monitored the case. But time tempered this rage, and more cases of impunity come one after the other. Italian missionary Fausto ‘Pops’ Tentorio in Arakan. ‘Doctor to the Barrios’ Dr. Drefuss Perlas in Lanao del Norte. Lumad school administrator Emerito Samarca in Lianga. Attorney Ben Ramos in Negros Occidental. To name a few.

Their cases never went to court. The investigation on Fr. Pops’ death went around circles. Each case seem to show impunity never ceases. As National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Chair Nonoy Espina said, the government never bothers to care.

Another case of impunity should be remembered: Human rights worker Benjaline Hernandez, who celebrates her 40th birthday this week, was murdered in 2002 in Arakan by the paramilitary. The case against her perpetrator was dropped after the court granted bail. The family found a favorable decision in the United Nations Human Rights Council which condemned the Philippine government and its justice system for failing to defend the rights of its citizens and prosecute the perpetrator.

Will the case of the Ampatuan rule in favor of the 58? The case has dragged on for nine years. The patriarch has died in jail. A son is out on bail. The court was set to release a decision this month but asked for an extension up to December.

One can only hope, as the families of the victims gather again at the massacre site. The children have grown, families have learned to brave the storms. The scars are there. One wonders if justice could heal them.


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