By MYLAH REYES-ROQUE
TIRED of the slow pace of justice, relatives of 14 of the 58 fatalities in the November 2009 Ampatuan massacre had signed an agreement with an “emissary” of the accused to negotiate the settlement of the murder case for P50 million.
But no settlement has been reached to date: The “emissary,” identified as Jun Chan, was killed in an ambush en route to his farm in Barangay Sulit in General Santos City a month after the agreement was signed.
The agreement with Chan was reached the third week of February, and Chan was killed on March 25. But the proposed settlement surfaced only recently when an heir of one of the victims decided to provide the details to highlight how precarious their situation is—financially and security-wise—as victims living in Mindanao.
Lawyer Harry Roque confirmed in radio interviews that four of the 14 heirs who signed the agreement with Chan are his clients.
The source, who attended the two meetings with Chan but ended up not signing the agreement, said the meetings were held in a mosque in General Santos on the second and third weeks of February. Chan was accompanied by a man they called “Prof,” but the heirs came without their lawyers, the source said.
In the first meeting, Chan asked the heirs to sign a document authorizing him to negotiate a financial settlement on their behalf in return for 15 percent of the amount. “We said we would not entertain any offer lower than P50 million, and the emissary said he would talk to his principal,” according to the source.
In the second meeting, Chan told the heirs that his principal was amenable to the amount but asked for two affidavits in return, the source said.
One would be an affidavit of desistance. The other would be an affidavit stating that then gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu had promised each journalist P30,000 as payment for accompanying his wife Genalyn to the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy (COC).
“Akala namin nung una, affidavit of desistance lang OK na, pero sabi nila wala na daw magiging epekto yun sa kaso dahil pwede pa ding mag-prosecute ang gobyerno kahit bumitaw kami (We initially thought that they just wanted an affidavit of desistance, which was all right with us. But they said this would have no effect on the case because government can still prosecute the case),” the source said.
The heirs were asked to state in their affidavit that Mangudadatu promised to pay the victims P5,000 as downpayment and the balance of P25,000 after the COC had been filed, the source added.
Said the source: “Gusto nila na idiin si Toto, na alam nya na ipinapain nya ang buhay ng mga media para makapag-file siya ng COC (They wanted to implicate Mangudadatu by showing that he knew he was putting the journalists’ lives in danger).”
The source also said Chan repeatedly warned them “not to talk to anybody about the negotiations for our own safety.” Hence their silence when he was killed a month later.
At the time, police did not know the motive for killing Chan, who was in a car with his wife. Chan’s wife survived.
Chan had stressed in both meetings that it was in the heirs’ best interest to settle the case because the trial would only linger because the government’s evidence against the accused was weak, the source recalled.
“Kung manalo man daw kami, malaki na daw na makakuha kami ng P5 million (Even if we win, the most we’d get is P5 million),” the source said.
Reacting to the agreement reached between the victims’ heirs and Chan, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines president Rowena Paraan said, “We have an environment that encourages the victims to settle. If the victims feel they will get justice, the temptation to settle will not be there.”
On Monday, the NUJP and the Franciscan Sisters commemorated the 43rd month of the Ampatuan killing with a mass at the St. Joseph’s College in Quezon City.
Lawyer Prima Quinsayas, one of the private prosecutors in the ongoing Ampatuan trial at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, said she heard about the meetings between Chan and the heirs but that “none of (her) clients discussed it with her.”
Roque, said he will ask the United Nations Human Rights Committee to look into government’s failure to accord adequate remedy to the victims under domestic laws and compensation.
The UNHRC has called the Philippine government’s attention on two cases, that of Navy ensign Philip Pestano and Eden Marcellana, both victims of extrajudicial killings.
Roque said the government’s duty to pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan killing is “separate and distinct from the civil damages that the court may order the accused to pay to private complainants.”