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Filipino journalists light candles to commemorate the second-year anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre at the National Press Club compound in Manila on Nov. 23, 2011. (c) REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Revisiting the Maguindanao Massacre: Half a decade later

 

SLOW PACE OF JUSTICE. The timeline of events involving the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre.

SLOW PACE OF JUSTICE. The timeline of events involving the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre.

On 23 November 2009, the Philippines shocked the world with what is considered the worst election-related violence in its contemporary history—the infamous Maguindanao Massacre. Allegedly perpetrated by the notorious Ampatuan clan, the price of a then showcase of political domination in the province took away 58 innocent lives.

What makes the unfortunate incident peculiar is the fact that among the 58 victims, 32 were journalists, who were then present to cover the supposed filing of Esmael Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao’s gubernatorial post. To date, this is considered as the single event in the world with the most number of deaths of media practitioners, making the Philippines the worst place for journalists in 2009. But five years after the incident, justice still remains elusive for the families of the victims.

Rido: Maguindanao Massacre as part of a bigger picture

According to Tuan Pat Radjaie, a Tausug expert in Muslim Mindanao politics and an Imam based in Sulu, in a key-informant interview in 2010, the Maguindanao Massacre is just a portion of a bigger picture of a cycle of clan wars between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus. This cycle is also known as “Rido” which, unfortunately, is considered part and parcel of clan politics and culture in today’s Muslim Mindanao.

It stems from the socially-constructed notion of bringing pride and honor to the family in avenging the loss of a relative to a rival clan, making it an endless cycle of violence for some major rival political clans and factions in the region. It has been alleged that for decades now, the Ampatuans have been at war with the Mangudadatus, and that the Maguindanao Massacre was a culmination of the cycle of acts of domination between the two. Oddly enough, this is also true in the other parts of the country where a showcase of political power could cost innocent lives as collateral damage. 

Worst of its kind

However, even submitting that the Maguindanao Massacre is just a part of a bigger cycle of clan feud, it is considered by most clans in the region as “the worst of its kind” says Hji. Muktadir Ahmad, a long-serving Sulu councilor. According to the key-informant, it is an unwritten rule among rival clans in the region not to include women in the cycle of violence. However, this was not the case for the Maguindanao Massacre, where it is alleged that it was Andal Ampatuan himself who killed Mangudadatu’s wife and pregnant sister in an inhumane fashion.

Updates on the Maguindanao Massacre case

As of the fifth anniversary of the gruesome tragedy, out of 194 suspects in the case, at least 104 have already been arrested, while the rest remain at large. Of those arrested, at least 104 have been arraigned and pleaded not guilty.Among those arraigned are the eight prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, including Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Ampatuan Jr.

In March 4, 2014, the prosecution had already rested its case against 28 suspects that include Andal Ampatuan Jr., the alleged mastermind of the crime. As to the other 76 accused, the prosecution was not ready to rest its case due to pending appeals in the higher courts to have the testimonies of certain vital witnesses to be admitted in court and pending resolution of a motion to have a police inspector as state witness.

As of August 7 2014, lawyers of the defense team, led by Sigfrid Fortun, have withdrawn from the case citing conflict of interest. But by 17 September 2014, one of the primary accused in the case, Andal Ampatuan Jr. already had a new defense counsel.

In October 2014, Andal Ampatuan Jr. will begin presenting his rebuttal evidence in support of his bail petition, while Zaldy Ampatuan would present his second witness.

The Court System in the Philippines is prone to delays by unscrupulous lawyers

It has been five years since the Maguindanao Massacre but the end is nowhere in sight. The case is still at the RTC level and any decision will surely be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. This could only mean additional years, if not decades, before the case is finally decided. This does not take into account the numerous petitions and motions the defense could file along the way, just to delay the resolution of the case.

There are two reasons why the Maguindanao Massacre case is taking such a long time to be decided. One reason is the sheer scope of the case. The number of accused totals 194, and each accused will have to be examined individually. A total of around 35 lawyers represent the prosecution, while around 54 lawyers are for the defense. The number of witnesses is also mindboggling, with 101 witnesses already being sent to the witness stand three years into the case.

The second reason is the penchant of the defense to use dilatory tactics. It took three years alone for just two of the principal accused, Ampatuan Sr. and Ampatuan Jr, to enter a plea of not guilty. This is due to the numerous petitions the defense filed, challenging the indictment of certain Ampatuans. These petitions have reached all the way to the Supreme Court and Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, the RTC judge handling the case, had to delay arraignment pending resolution of the petitions.

Another dilatory tactic is the numerous bail petitions filed. At least 48 of the accused have filed petitions for bail, with most of them planning to present rebuttal evidence in the bail hearings. Such presentations can stretch the case for months, considering also the number of petitions filed.

The defense has also filed unreasonably numerous motions in the case. As of November 2012, 307 motions had already been filed and the records of the case have already reached 48 volumes. The latest move by the defense to delay the case is the withdrawal of the defense lawyers, forcing the Court to delay the case and allow the Ampatuans to employ new lawyers.

Justice delayed is justice denied

Despite efforts by the Supreme Court to expedite the case, including the designation of a special court to solely hear the Maguindanao Massacre case and the thrice-a-week hearings, these have been proven to be in vain. The victims of the Maguindanao Massacre case should expect this legal battle to last decades more and steel their resolve for such an eventuality. P

An advocate for the Maguindanao massacre victims appears at a court hearing near several police officers charged in the killings.  (c) REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

An advocate for the Maguindanao massacre victims appears at a court hearing near several police officers charged in the killings.
(c) REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

 

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