Forgetting is not an option: 12 years after gruesome Maguindanao massacre

Twelve years after the world’s single deadliest attack on the press that killed 58 media workers in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, their families’ grief never fades away, particularly for Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo, whose father, photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, was excluded from the 2019 verdict because his body was never found.

Ang hirap para sa pamilya kasi every time na nangyayari ang Nov. 23 …‘yung loss is continuous para sa family. Hindi namin alam kung saan kami mag-uumpisa at saan kami magtatapos. Nagkaroon na sana kami ng hope. Noong lumabas ‘yung acquittal para bang naglaho lahat ang pangarap ko na mabigyan ng hustisya ang aking tatay,” Castillo said in a forum commemorating the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

(It’s too painful for the family each time Nov. 23 comes … the loss is continuous for the family. We don’t know where we will start and where we will stop. We had some hope. But when the acquittal came, my dream of getting justice for my father disappeared.)

On Dec. 19, 2019, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 handed down a guilty verdict only on 57 counts of murder. The court ruled there was not enough proof to convict any of the accused for the death of Momay, the 58th victim in the massacre.

(Read Justice is served in the decade-long Maguindanao massacre case, except for one)

In the online forum organized by the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and the Advocates for Freedom of Expression Coalition Southeast Asia (AFECSEA), Castillo said she initially thought that the “pain will go away” if she leaves the country. Castillo, a nurse who now works in the United States, professed that her family’s suffering has been worsened by rude comments online that they were not giving up on their appeal because they were after the monetary award.

Hindi pera ang habol namin. Pero tao lang kami, kapag nakakakita kami ng comment na gano’n, nasasaktan pa rin kami. Literal na nawala ang tatay namin; hindi siya nawala na namatay lang, na nailibing namin at pupuntahan kami. In our case, wala. Hindi namin alam kung saan pupuntahan,” Castillo said.

(We are not after the money. But we are also humans, when we see comments like that, we get hurt. Literally, our father disappeared; he was not lost because of death, that we have buried and could visit his grave. In our case, none. We don’t know where to visit him.)

The 2019 partial court ruling found the principal accused in the worst case of election-related violence in the country — brothers Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and several police officers — guilty beyond reasonable doubt for the murder of 57 people, excluding Momay.

Almost two years after the verdict was promulgated and the Ampatuans appealed the guilty verdict, the lawyers defending the media workers have yet to receive an advisory from the Court of Appeals (CA) to submit their briefs.

Lawyer Gilbert Andres of CenterLaw, the firm representing the families of some of the massacre victims, said what they have so far received was “a notice that some of the records are there, although they’re still looking for all of the records.”

“What we are waiting for from the CA is (a notice that) all the necessary information is there,” he said, adding that upon receipt of the notice, they have to wait 30 to start filing an appeal brief.

The resolution of the appeal is crucial for the families of the 57 victims to be able to receive the damages awarded by the court.

During the online forum, the relatives of the other massacre victims expressed their solidarity with Castillo in her fight for justice for her father.

Noemi Parcon, widow of Joel Parcon — a publisher-editor of Prontiera News in Koronadal City —echoed Castillo’s statement that 12 years after the brutal killings, the wounds of the massacre remain fresh.

“Many lives were gone, many families are grieving, the massacre is still fresh in our minds. It was imprinted throughout our whole lives. We need to move on, without forgetting the good memories of our [deceased] loved ones,” she said.

Parcon added that they are still hoping for the final resolution of the case. She also called on the Duterte administration to look after the case so that they may “finally receive the justice [they] deserve.”

Catherine Nuñez, mother of UNTV senior reporter Victor Nuñez, said the December 2019 court ruling was just a “partial justice.”

Sana po matulungan po siya ninyo na makuha ang hustisya dahil hindi pa po natatapos ang kaso dahil may mga damages. Sana kay Nenen (Reynafe) din po,” Nuñez said.

(Read Public apology, higher compensation demanded by kin of Maguindanao massacre victims)