Nonie, Cecil and the Ampatuan Massacre
Almost 10 years ago, I had dedicated this op-ed piece to four victims of the Ampatuan Massacre who had simply happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In “I’ll remember Nonie and Cecil and the red Vios” (1/11/2010), I had wanted readers to take special note that not all 58 victims murdered by the now-convicted Unsay Ampatuan and his private army of policemen were part of the Mangudadatu convoy or of the accompanying members of media.
As a stunned nation came to grips with the dreadful show of ghastly warlord butchery, only filmmaker Kiri Lluch Dalena’s documentary gave face to what I had said was “innocence personified” — the unfathomable grief of the two young girls Honey and Sugar Lechonsito. In a script only the hubris of a politically coddled warlord can write, the bloodthirsty Unsay (a man who subscribes to neither honor nor valor should not be called Datu, stop it please) had ordered the immediate burial not just of the dead bodies but also of all the convoy’s vehicles. Among those was a red Toyota Vios. Ten years later in the verdict’s promulgation, we continue to forget the fact that not all killed by Unsay’s henchmen were — if I may reiterate — members of the Mangudadatu family or media workers. I had written: “Nonie and Cecil Lechonsito were never part of the Mangudadatu convoy. They just happened to be there, on the way to a hospital in Cotabato City. Nonie had suffered a mild stroke two days before. He needed a CT scan in that city. A government employee, his two loyal office staff accompanied him, Mercy Palabrica and Darryl de los Reyes” in that red Toyota Vios.
“Cecil was just home from Qatar after two years of being away. Her homecoming was meant to be a long vacation to spend Christmas with Nonie and their two young daughters (Honey and Sugar), and was supposed to end with a happy milestone — one of the Lechonsito girls was to graduate in March.” A little over a month after the Ampatuan Massacre, Nonie’s niece Kathrina Fleur Lechonsito Serrano had written a disconsolate plea in Inquirer’s Letters section. “Nobody seems to be interested in my Tito and Tita’s story, or the stories of their companions in the red Vios. We don’t know how we could let the whole world know about their story.”
The world has since known of the Ampatuan Massacre as, in the words of Al Jazeera, “the world’s worst single-day murder of media workers and the worst case of election-related violence.” In the 10 years the murder trial dragged on, members of the national media have effectively galvanized the cause of media killings. Because 32 of the 58 victims were journalists and media workers, the cause has, at the same time, somehow narrowed the perspective of the Ampatuan Massacre into a media issue. And that is where the names of the Lechonsito couple, Mercy Palabrica and Darryl de los Reyes have been inadvertently forgotten. Have their grieving families received postmassacre nurturing by a caring public as have the surviving family members of the media workers? More than an attack against media (which no doubt must be defended), the Ampatuan Massacre was an attack against democracy and the protection of human life of ordinary Filipinos.
We do not do the least for the Ampatuan Massacre 58. The best we can do is to elevate the memory of the Ampatuan Massacre as the product of a retardation fed by traditional politics until this day — power remains in the hands of few dynastic families. A reprise of the Ampatuan Massacre will not be remote because we have empowered dynasties with an unlimited ego trip of bossism fueled by the sweat of our own pockets they can dip into like a bottomless pit.
The Ampatuans were corrupt because we allowed them to. They freely twisted the law because we have given political relativism such permissible levels. How much of that persists in this present age ushered by a promise of change? Dynasties, impunity and a dysfunctional justice system — business as usual — are in fact the reasons why Nonie, Cecil, Mercy and Darryl escape our collective memory.
[On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. Email: [email protected]]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.