‘Ampatuan should have paid for his sins in jail’
Widows of victims of the nation’s worst political massacre said Saturday that they could not forgive Andal Ampatuan Senior, who was one of the main suspects in the case, after he died in hospital at age 74.
Andal Senior, patriarch of the powerful Ampatuan clan, was among 100 people on trial for the killings of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in the conflict-wracked southern province of Maguindanao in November 2009.
Andal Senior—his sons Andal Junior alias Unsay and Zaldy —and over a hundred others have been charged with murder in connection with the massacre.
The victims were headed for Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy for governor of Esmail Mangudadatu when they were stopped at gunpoint by Ampatuan’s men and were allegedly killed. Journalists and lawyers who were with the Mangudadatu family and supporters were also killed.
Andal Senior died at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City (Metro Manila) late Friday evening, days after he slipped into a coma following a heart attack, his lawyers said.
Andal Senior also suffered from advanced liver cancer.
“I could not forgive him because he has shown no remorse, and the fact that the case has dragged adds to our pain,” said Gloria Teodoro, whose newspaper reporter husband died in the carnage.
“When I saw news of his death today, it was mixed emotions. I was happy that he’s dead, but sad
because we have not gotten justice,” the 46-year-old widow said.
The brutal massacre, one of the world’s deadliest attacks against media workers, saw some shot in their genitals before they were buried in a hilltop grave using an excavator.
The brazenness of the murders shocked the world and reinforced perceptions of a culture of impunity in the Philippines, where the powerful believe they can commit serious crimes and escape unpunished.
The trial has moved excruciatingly slowly, with allegations of bribery, potential witnesses being killed or threatened, and delaying maneuvers by the clan’s lawyers.
Many of the victims’ widows have been left struggling, their children forced to drop out of school due to poverty.
‘He should have paid for his sins’
Merly Perante, who lost her husband, also a journalist, in the massacre said she did not know how the case would proceed after the Ampatuan patriarch’s death.
“I cannot accept that he died due to sickness, that he died before he can be convicted. He should have paid for his sins in jail,” the 41-year-old told AFP.
“It is very difficult to forgive him. I leave it to the Lord to judge him.”
Ampatuan ruled Maguindanao as governor for a decade with a private army tolerated by then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who used his forces as a buffer against Muslim insurgents.
“Money talks and money walks in our case,” Teodoro said, as she dared President Benigno Aquino 3rd to fulfill his promise of concluding the massacre trial before he steps down in June next year.
“I want to hear him say it, that he will help us find justice,” she said, referring to the president’s annual address to parliament later this month.
Maria Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of photojournalist Reynaldo Momay, said she could hardly understand her feelings.
“I don’t want to say I am happy he died but justice has not been served,” Momay-Castillo, said in a phone interview.
“But I have forgiven him already. How I wished he sought forgiveness for the sins he committed,” Momay-Castillo said.
Momay-Castillo’s father was the 58th massacre victim. His remains had not been recovered but his denture was retrieved at the massacre site by police forensic technicians.
“I will continue to hope that the remains of my father will be recovered so we can give him decent burial,” Momay-Castillo said.
Former Cotabato City Councilor Marino Ridao Sr, father of Anthony, a government employee and one of the massacre victims, said he has forgiven Andal Senior even before he died.
“Deep in my heart I have already forgiven him even before he died,” Ridao said in between sobs.
“I believed it is only in forgiving that we are forgiven,” said Ridao, an active member of the Knights of Columbus.
Anthony was driving his Toyota Tamaraw on his way to Cotabato City tailing a convoy of vehicles when gunmen flagged down his car.
“While I have forgiven Andal Senior, our cry for justice continues, justice must be served,” Ridao said.
Aquino also frustrated
Aquino is also frustrated with the pace of the trial, presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said.
“We understand their frustration. We share in their frustration,” Valte said.
Valte cited the huge number of accused, some of whom are still at large, as one of the reasons for the delay.
“The verdict in this case will be handed down by the presiding judge, not the president, but (he) is doing everything to speed up the case,” she said.
Valte said the President has given strict orders to prosecutors under the Department of Justice to make sure they remain vigilant against attempts to delay the case.
“Huwag kayo ang magiging dahilan ng delay sa kasong ‘yan. Ang magagawa sa executive side siguraduhin na hindi maging cause ng delay at labanan ang delay (The prosecutors were told not to become the cause of delay of the case. What the executive branch can do is to make sure there will be no delay and resist attempts to slow the trial down),” she added.
Ferdinand Topacio, the Ampatuan family’s lawyer in a separate case, said all cases against Andal Senior will have to be dismissed due to his passing.
“Under the principles of penal laws, death extinguishes any criminal liability,” he said.
Valte, who is also a lawyer, agreed with Topacio but she clarified that the trial for the rest of the accused would proceed.
“The case will proceed against the other accused who remain alive.” she added.
Valte said government prosecutors will make sure they will not cause any delay, and that they will thwart any delaying tactics in the case.
Andal Senior’s remains were briefly shown to sons Andal Junior. and Zaldy at their maximum security cells in Manila’s outskirts before the body was flown to Cotabato City in the morning, jail bureau spokeswoman Superintendent Carolina Borrinaga said. The convoy escorting the hearse that carried his remains arrived in Shariff Aguak town where the Ampatuan compound is located at past noon.
He will be buried according to Muslim traditions with an imam (Muslim priest) present. and the family had asked to be allowed to grieve in private, their lawyer Ferdinand Topacio said.
Rest in peace
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, the political rival of the Ampatuans who lost his wife and sister in the 2009 massacre said the surviving families of the massacre victims will continue to seek justice.
He immediately recited a verse from holy Qur’an immediately after he was informed of Andal Senior’s death.
“Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un,” he said.
The verse, which literarily means “verily we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return,” is a traditional way which Muslims shall recite when hearing news of somebody’s passing.
“May [the soul of]Andal Ampatuan Sr. rest in peace. Regardless of his death, however, the Mangudadatu family and other families of the victims will continue to seek (through the court) justice for the 58 persons who were gruesomely killed in the massacre,” the governor added.
Mangudadatu earlier shut down proposals to give the former provincial governor burial honors.
“We will not oppose burial for him in Maguindanao, that is his right. But burial honors, no,” Mangudadatu said, adding the Ampatuan patriarch is not a hero who is entitled to burial honors.”
Commenting on the patriarch’s death, Rajah Buayan (Maguindanao) Mayor Zamzamin Ampatuan said death is inevitable and it is “a door to ultimate judgment… life is a lesson.”
“Let’s look at his life as a lesson… a backdrop to where man should lead himself. For the immediate family [wives, children, brothers and sisters] and friends, our condolence… justice has its own natural course,” Mayor Ampatuan added.
WITH AFP AND PNA