NINE YEARS. Three administrations. Yet justice has remained elusive for all the victims of the bloody Ampatuan massacre where 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists, were killed in Ampatuan, Maguindanao province in what is considered as the worst election-related massacre in Philippine history.
Branch 22 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) has concluded the trial of the primary suspects and is expected to release by early next year its verdict on the multiple murder cases against Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and other members of the Ampatuan clan. This is indeed a development that many have been waiting for. But it also reminds us all how glacial the pace of the so-called justice system has been: after almost a decade, what was once thought to be the trial of the century is only now being partly concluded, while the trial of more than a hundred other accused is still ongoing.
Past developments insult the memory of those killed in the Massacre, among which certainly belongs the court’s allowing one of the prime suspects, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, to attend his daughter’s wedding last August, and Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan’s being out on bail together with ten others accused of involvement in the crime.
Nine years – and the perpetrators think we will forget. They all think that the damage and violence they wrought would now be a fading memory. That the blood on their hands will somewhat be cleansed by the passage of time. No, we refuse to submit to the reign of impunity by forgetting that justice has not been served to colleagues who have been killed in the line of duty — in the Ampatuan massacre and beyond.
Three administrations have passed, yet instead of dissipating, the killings and attacks against journalists have further intensified. The current administration has more than aided and abetted those that seek to harm vanguards of the truth. Under the Duterte administration, at least 99 cases of attacks and threats, both online and offline, have been made against members of the Philippine media. Twelve were killed, seven of whom were Mindanao journalists. In general, the killings have surged – doctors, church people, innocent civilians all killed under a worsening climate of impunity.
Impunity — the exemption from punishment of wealthy, powerful and well-connected wrong-doers – is in fact what it is all about. And we fear that like Imelda Marcos, who is likely to escape imprisonment despite her conviction on seven counts of graft, those accused of planning and implementing the Ampatuan Massacre will also go scot-free.
Almost a decade after the bloodbath in Maguindanao, the reign of impunity continues to deny its victims the justice they deserve. The day of reckoning will surely dawn, and justice will finally be served. Until then, we enjoin the Filipino people to never forget – and to combat all attempts to curtail the freedom the Constitution guarantees the press as a potential instrument of change and liberation. Until that day comes, our call will always reverberate: we will never forget.