At judgment today, images of the backhoe | Inquirer Opinion
Human Face

At judgment today, images of the backhoe

/ 05:06 AM December 19, 2019

I have been running this in my mind over and over like a prayer: Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let justice be done though the heavens fall.

That, even as the image of a backhoe keeps popping up in my mind. What a symbol of an unspeakable, premeditated massacre this lumbering giant machine has become.


Today, Dec. 19, all eyes and ears will be focused on Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes and the more than a hundred accused in the 2009 Maguindanao/Ampatuan massacre as the judge’s verdict is read behind closed doors at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City — and on the ones reading the expected long verdict, of course.

Camp Bagong Diwa has been on lockdown since yesterday — no visitors allowed for two days for everyone detained there.


Last Dec. 3, media groups filed a petition addressed to Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta for “open, live coverage of the court ruling on the Ampatuan massacre cases.” The Ampatuan massacre is described as “the single-day deadliest attack on the media across the world that claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 32 journalists and media workers, on Nov. 23, 2009.”

Live coverage has been allowed, but not for all media entities. Only the government-run PTV 4 will be allowed inside the judgment room and the camp, but media networks can hook up with PTV 4 and beam the proceedings live on TV, radio and the internet.

The massacre has since been symbolized by a backhoe, because it was used before and after the massacre to dig and bury the 58 dead bodies along with their vehicles. (We journalists wore “backhoe T-shirts” at a rally for speedy justice.) Burying the bodies and the vehicles was a massive but hasty operation, and it did not take long for the crime to be uncovered.

I again went over the nine-hour timeline on the Ampatuan massacre (“Maguindao Massacre: How it happened,”, 11/21/14). Ampatuan is also the name of the town in Maguindanao where the powerful Ampatuan clan ruled with impunity.

On Nov. 23, 2009, Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn, accompanied by supporters, lawyers and a horde of media workers, were in a convoy on the way to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor that would challenge the powerful Ampatuan warlord clan of Maguindanao province in Mindanao. They were coming from Buluan, the capital town of Maguindanao, and going to the Comelec office in Shariff Aguak. Mangudadatu stayed behind.

On the way, armed men stopped the convoy, herded the passengers to a grassy area, and shot them dead. Even two passing vehicles, mistaken as part of the convoy, were stopped and the drivers and passengers also killed.

The government-owned yellow Komatsu backhoe, already on standby, was used to dig the mass grave even before the massacre was committed and, as planned, to cover the corpses and vehicles as soon as the evil deed was accomplished. With its claw, this earth mover or excavator can dig and move dirt. It is a familiar workhorse in construction sites and garbage dumpsites. A backhoe is similar to but smaller than a payloader.


The massive, premeditated and politically motivated massacre is unmatched in this country’s election history.

If you want to read about the backhoe driver’s blood-curdling account of the massacre, check “Backhoe driver describes Maguindanao massacre burial” (

The judge, Solis-Reyes, a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Civil Law, had served as a public attorney, a public prosecutor and, in 2001 to 2004, as presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Angeles and Olongapo. In 2004, she was appointed Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge.

Solis-Reyes became the trial court judge for the massacre case by lottery draw in 2009 after the selected judge, Luisito Cortez, declined for security reasons. Solis-Reyes refused security at first but was nevertheless provided protection as required. One gutsy lady, the Inquirer called her.

Judge Solis-Reyes deserves all the prayers for her in the countdown to the promulgation of the judgment. Religious sisters, an army of them, have been praying for her.

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TAGS: Human Face, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, maguindanao massacre
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