By Romel Regalado Bagares
We reproduce below today’s editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer on the second anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre.
The second anniversary of the infamous Maguindanao massacre was marked yesterday on a pessimistic note and with diminished hope, the multiple-murder case against members of the powerful Ampatuan clan and their minions not having moved beyond the prosecution’s presentation of witnesses. The families of the victims – the formal count is 57, with the remains of the 58th yet to be found – are necessarily despondent, gripped by grief, bogged down in frustration over the glacial pace of the case, and, as a result of the death of loved one and/or primary breadwinner, hard put to get on with their lives or even to make ends meet.
Two years after the grisly slaughter that shocked even the jaded around the world, the enormousness of the task ahead remains. Only 72 of the prosecution’s at least 300 witnesses have been presented. As many as 103 of the 196 suspects are still at large (and “roaming around” in Cotabato City, Romel Bagares, a lawyer for the families, said in a TV interview). Of the 93 in custody, 29 have yet to be arraigned, among them Zaldy Ampatuan, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Of the 64 who have been arraigned, 50 have submitted petitions for bail, adding to the weighty load saddling the court of Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes.
If the numbers are daunting, imagine the difficulties (not only logistics-wise) that have arisen from transporting witnesses to the trial venue at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, from Mindanao, and back. Imagine as well the travails of the families thrust by the massacre into a life of penury, of women in the twilight of their lives suddenly called upon to muster not only the wherewithal but also the strength (both physical and not) to bring up orphaned grandchildren. Imagine finally the lingering sorrow of the survivors, including a child unable to comprehend the disappearance of her mother from her life and now exhibiting the crippling effects of the beloved’s absence.
But the law appears blind to these things, not even to a daughter’s enduring desolation over the loss of a father who took her and her siblings to and from school, helped them with their homework, and bought them toys. There is no indication that accountability for the Nov. 23, 2009, murders – a study in “barbarism,” according to a cable from the US Embassy in Manila released by Wikileaks – will be pinpointed in the near future. A defense lawyer quoted in an Inquirer report said that he and his colleagues expected the trial to plod on for 18 years, and that he himself intended to present no less than 325 witnesses for his client. (The halfway attentive observer would find the remark laughable if it were not so odious, as odious as the unnamed lawyer’s claim that the case – from eyewitness accounts, a horrendous occurrence involving the murder in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, of 57 people among whom were 32 journalists and media workers, the vehicles that carried some of them found in the same pit, a backhoe bearing marks of the local government, spent shells from high-powered firearms –should not be prejudged.)
Last Tuesday, the next of kin of 15 of the victims filed a P15-million civil suit against Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was president at the time of the massacre, and whose patronage of the Ampatuans allowed them to rise to their position of power and influence. More than a bid for legal relief – the damages are a pittance – it is an act affirming the correctness of their search for justice in the face of great odds.
And the odds of overcoming the climate of impunity loom ever larger with the unabated killing of journalists. When he took power in 2010, President Aquino promised accountability for murderers, crooks and others who have committed crimes against the people. But the records show that since the Maguindanao massacre, six journalists have been slain (and scores of human rights workers, political activists, labor leaders and others have been abducted, tortured and killed). The prevailing climate has likewise proved inhospitable for journalists to freely exercise their profession, specially those in the rural areas where crime occurs as much in the light of day as in the dark of night.
But despite diminished hope, it is crucial to always remember, to always speak about, the fallen and what was done to them. It would be treachery to forget. [emphasis supplied]
Here’s also a link to a perfectly reasonable proposal by Prof. Harry L. Roque, Jr. on how the massacre trial may be speeded up.