Friday, September 3, 2010

Philippines: 9 Months pass and no Justice for the family of the Maguindanao Massacre

Fifty-eight people, including the wife and sister of the main suspects’ foremost political enemy and 37 journalists, were massacred in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009. They were mercilessly gunned down and hacked. Some victims’ bodies were desecrated. Then they were buried in a mass grave waiting for the victims’ corpses.

The main suspects are members of the Ampatuan clan, led by former Governor of Maguindanao Andal Ampatuan Sr., former Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Zaldy Ampatuan, former Mayor of Datu Unsay town Andal Ampatuan Jr. There are 197 accused of murder. At least 29 of these are members of the Ampatuan clan.

Nine months and 12 days have passed. The cruelty of the massacre continues.

For the case has progressed ever so slowly. What the victims’ families and the Filipino people have been seeing are legal victories of the accused Ampatuan clan members, who have been tagged by witnesses, including an eyewitness.

The first such legal victory of the Ampatuans was the decision of the previous administration’s Department of Justice to charge the suspects with rebellion in addition to murder. Of course, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court immediately dismissed the rebellion case for lack of sufficient evidence.

How could the argument be anything but tenuous to claim that the Ampatuans’ having private armies and an arsenal of light and heavy artillery (all of which appear to have come from the Philippine military) was an act of rebellion. The Ampatuans were clearly officials, politicians and warlords of immense power in Manguindanao.They were friends and supporters of the ruling party and the power holders in Malacañang Palace. The only consolation the massacre victims’ families could have in the QC RTC’s decision was that the murder charges were retained.

Most upsetting to the victims’ families was the act—over and above the objections of the DOJ prosecutors handling the case—of their boss, the
Secretary of Justice himself, to absolve Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin Mayor Akmad Ampatuan of the murder charges.

It looked like the first day of the trial could never be held as long as the Arroyo administration was in power.

New hope under Aquino

Under the two-month old administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, the victims’ families began to feel some hope that justice would be theirs.

They were sure prosecution of the accused would now begin in earnest. The the date set for the start of the trial was Wednesday September 1. The victims’ families and citizens who share their pain, their thirst for justice, were lifted from depression by the promise that the maneuvers of the defense lawyers would now fail against the Aquino DOJ’s team of prosecutors.

Their hopes were dashed once more. For on September 1, the Ampatuans won another victory.

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court acceded once again to a defense motion to have the long-awaited opening of the trial postponed. Branch 221
Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes moved the schedule of the first day of the trial by another week—to September 8. She granted the defense’s plea to be given more time to study and comment on the court’s pre-trial order documents.

This new development raised outraged cries from the victims’ families, their lawyers and members of the public.
It enraged Justice Secretary Leila de Lima herself. She ordered the prosecution lawyers to put up a strong fight against the defense lawyers’ moves.

These moves would, it was reported, include the filing of disciplinary and administrative cases against the defense lawyers for using dilatory tactics.

ABS-CBN News said a source told its reporters the DOJ might even file disbarment cases against defense lawyers because they were reported to have tried to bribe witnesses into retracting their testimonies.

Secretary de Lima must not letup—despite this new defeat. The drive to punish the guilty and serve the ends of justice, which surged with the advent of President Noynoy Aquino and her appointment as DOJ secretary, must not lose momentum.

Justice delayed is justice denied. Nowhere is this old saw truer (most Filipinos feel) than in our country. For hundreds of crimes—crimes of corruption, murder and assassination—became headline news and the talk of the town for a while but ended up unresolved and forgotten.

Keep the Biblically nuanced promise

The perception must not be allowed to grow—with the Aquino administration getting more flak for fiascos big and small—that just as in the previous regimes such a horrible and demonic crime as the Maguindanao Massacre will also be forgotten and remain unresolved.

President Aquino made a Biblically nuanced promise. It came from Isaiah and St. Luke. “Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be leveled. The crooked ways will be made straight, and the rough roads will be made smooth.”

It would not be his fault if judges, lawyers and witnesses followed the crooked ways. But his presidency would be stained if the guilty goes unpunished in this case.
Secretary de Lima has to work doubly hard to make sure the government wins.

Grief – and expense

It is not only the moral pain of frustration that the victims’ families suffer each time the trial is postponed.

Many of them are from Mindanao. They come to Metro Manila to be at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court or at the DOJ each time there is a scheduled hearing.

They spend money to take the trip from Mindanao and for board and lodging.

When the defense was confronted with a suggestion from the relatives to foot their bills, they just laughed.

The relatives and the witnesses are also in constant fear of being done in—as long as the perpetrators of the massacre have not been found guilty and imprisoned. For the accused still have their private armies.

The authorities must wipe out these private armies. Comment from the Manila Times

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