• Maguindanao massacre: a pact with the devil

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    What did you expect?

    It’s been four years, and there is no end in sight to the Maguindanao massacre. That prompts the families of the victims at least some of them—to cut a deal with the perpetrators. To these people, justice is so far away, if not impossible to reach. So why not take the money and run?

    At a press conference called for the purpose, Harry Roque, lawyer for the complainants, announced that 14 of the families have already signed affidavits that absolve the principal accused, Andal Ampatuan Sr., the sitting Maguindanao governor when the gruesome crime took place.

    The most disturbing part of all is that the affidavits implicate the current Maguindanao governor, Esmael Mangundadato, as the murderer. Never mind that he lost his pregnant wife, three sisters, an aunt, and a cousin in the massacre.

    Does the sheer effrontery leave you speechless? Well, that’s the way things work in this country. And they—whoever they are—would have pulled it off too, but for the fact that the negotiator was killed before he could bring the deal to a successful conclusion.

    On Nov. 23, 2009, Mrs. Genalyn Tiamzon Mangundadato, along with relatives and supporters, traveled to the provincial capitol in a convoy to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy for governor at the local Comelec (Commission on Elections) office.

    However, the group of 58 people, among them 32 broadcast and print journalists, was waylaid by 100 gunmen, allegedly led by Andal Ampatuan Jr., who was also a candidate for governor, a post held by his father at the time. They were herded to a hillside, where a backhoe had already excavated a common grave.

    Allegedly? The backhoe was owned by the provincial government and the operator was on government payroll. There are witnesses to the crime, including some of the accused, who have since turned state witnesses, now all under the DOJ Witness Protection Program.

    It is an open-and-shut case. So why is it taking an inordinately long time to resolve?

    The pretext is the protection of the rights of the accused, and such nonsense. Their lawyers are filing innumerable petitions for no reason other than to delay the proceedings and give the accused time to settle the case. That was exactly what happened, but for the snag that stopped the scheme in its tracks.

    Mr. Roque claims the government is duty-bound to compensate the victims for the simple reason that it failed to provide them adequate security. He added that the victims, left to their own devices, become vulnerable to the machination of the principal accused, who is a billionaire many times over.

    But the government cannot compensate the victims, lest it set a precedent it cannot sustain. But even if it does, a remuneration of P200,000—the amount being bandied about—is nothing compared to the P50 million being offered to each family.

    For the poor, the choice is never in doubt. Actually, most people, rich or poor, will take both, and they won’t lose any sleep over the moral question, if it intrudes at all.

    If the government is remiss of something, it is its failure to speed up the dispensation of justice, and we do not mean the Executive branch alone. The responsibility lies with the trial courts, all the way to the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court.

    The whole justice system is rotten to the core, as people who have the misfortune of appearing before the courts, whether as accused or complainant, will tell you.

    After four years, trial on the merits of the Maguindanao massacre has yet to commence. All the court can show by way of accomplishment is the denial of bail for the accused, dismissal of petitions to include or exclude certain individuals from the information for this or that reason, and other procedural matters.

    The case is moving at a glacial pace. And that prompted Senator Joker Arroyo to remark that at the rate things were moving, the case would take a hundred years to resolve. The observation proved to be prescient, and the fact is not lost to the families.

    So there is an attempt to buy off the families for P50 million each?

    If true, that kind of money could only have been stolen. The Ampatuans do not own any business enterprise that could bring them that much. All they had was the governor’s mansion, but as shown by a preliminary report of the Commission on Audit, they practically ran the provincial government as a family affair.

    The money was twice damned, when it was stolen and when it was used to thwart the ends of justice.

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