It takes an anniversary to see the search for justice move for the families of the 58 persons, including 32 journalists, killed in the Maguindanao massacre 11 years ago or on Nov. 23, 2009.
That is how slow the wheels of justice turn for these families as they await the guilty verdict for not only the “small fry” but also the political biggies believed responsible for what media groups have called as the deadliest single attack on journalists in the world.
Monday, yesterday, marked the 11th year after the massacre with lawyers of the families joining an online forum of the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network. It was there that lawyer Nena Santos, speaking for the families, announced that the Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted eight people but cleared 40 other accused. The DOJ prosecution panel found probable cause to charge members of the Ampatuan private army for the gruesome murders.
Among the eight charged for attending meetings, planning and participating in the murder were Datu Morning Ampatuan Asim, Datu Harris Ampatuan Macapendeng and a policeman.
Santos said the DOJ order was issued on Aug. 28, 2019, but she received a copy only last month.
It wasn’t the first time a decision related to the Ampatuan (also known as Maguindanao) massacre case was released or known just before or after the anniversary.
In December 2019 or just days after the 10th anniversary of the massacre, the court convicted 28 persons accused of planning and carrying out the killings. One of those convicted was Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Ampatuan Jr. was the election rival of Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu whose wife and sister were among those killed. The massacre was also known as the worst incident of electoral violence in Philippine history.
Given that developments in the prosecution of the accused seem to take place only around the time of the anniversary, something is amiss with government action and assurances that justice will be served and the murderers will answer for their crime.
Sometime last September, media groups and the families of those killed sent a letter to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) asking it to reconsider its classification of the Ampatuan massacre case as resolved. The Unesco had classified the case as “resolved” following the December 2019 convictions. But media groups said the case is not over because there are still suspects at large and the Ampatuan family members who were convicted have filed appeals before the trial court and the Court of Appeals.
It makes one wonder about the seriousness to pursue the case to its end and to give justice to the families left behind.
Now, if only an anniversary can be marked every month then perhaps the case would move faster. A “monthsary” is probably what is needed to see progress in the search for justice.