EDITORIAL - Eight years and counting
Remember the Maguindanao massacre? Not the one in Mamasapano in 2015, but the one on a hilltop in Ampatuan town, where 58 people, 32 of them media workers, were gunned down and stabbed and then buried together with their vehicles using a backhoe owned by the local government.
Many other atrocities have been committed elsewhere in the country since the massacre that broke the Ampatuan clan’s stranglehold on power in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But the nation cannot afford to forget the massacre, because with justice uncertain for the victims and their families, the barbaric attack can happen again.
It’s been eight years to the day the mass murder was perpetrated by some 200 people reportedly led by former Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. Ampatuan remains in detention without bail, but clan patriarch Andal Sr., who was included in the charge sheet on accusations that the massacre was planned by the clan, died of illness in 2015.
Another son of Andal Sr., Sajid Ampatuan, has been temporarily freed after being allowed to post bail of P11.6 million. But another son, former Maguindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, remains in jail and faces forfeiture of his assets after being found guilty of graft for ill-gotten wealth.
Of 197 identified suspects, about half are at large while 106 are on trial. Anti-graft prosecutors are going after wealth that the Ampatuans are believed to have illegally amassed during their long reign that started in 1986 when Corazon Aquino appointed Andal Sr. officer-in-charge of Maganoy town, later renamed Shariff Aguak. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court has heard over 200 witnesses, but so far none of the accused has been convicted. Some of the prosecution witnesses have been killed.
There are reports that the trial is halfway through. Does this mean another eight years of waiting for justice to be rendered? This guarantees impunity and the persistence of gross abuses by other political warlords. While these warlords might not have the gall to kill 58 people in just one attack, they are committing murder on a smaller scale, confident that they can get away with it.