7 to-do’s after the Ampatuan verdict
Finally, after 10 years and 27 days, a verdict has been issued on the case of the single deadliest incident of election-related violence in the country, and also the single deadliest event for journalists in world history.
While the nation rejoices in this rare moment of justice and lauds Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for her commendable decision finding the principals of the Maguindanao Massacre guilty, we need to immediately map out the next steps to take.
Here are seven points the country needs to focus on:
1. The case of Reynaldo Momay, the 58th victim whose body was never found (“Momay, photographer for the local paper Midland Review, was declared missing after 57 bodies, including those of 31 other journalists, were dug from mass graves,” according to an ABS-CBN.com report). His family was robbed of a proper funeral for him, and now, of justice, as his death was excluded from the verdict. It is unconscionable that his case is left as it is without resolution.
2. A review of the cases of the over 50 acquitted persons should be done, especially that of Sajid Ampatuan, who was in a position to stop the massacre from happening, but didn’t.
3. The over 80 suspects still at large should be immediately brought to justice. What’s stopping security forces from launching a manhunt to capture these people? The failure to apprehend these suspects makes state forces even more complicit in the massacre.
4. We need to be on the lookout for the eventual filing of appeals by the Ampatuans and their fellow convicts. This is still a moneyed and influential clan, so it should come as no surprise if they choose to avail themselves of all possible avenues for appeal right up to the Supreme Court.
5. While the main suspects have been convicted, the enablers of this massacre—past and present officials of the national and local governments—remain untouchable. The unspeakable crime, and the decade-long delay in the pursuit of justice, are products of the confluence of warlordism, patronage politics and the culture of impunity sown and tended by past and present administrations. Appropriate justice must also be exacted from them.
6. The safety and security of the victims’ families are of paramount importance, especially given the mysterious disappearances and/or deaths of witnesses during the lengthy trial and the bloody reprisals associated with the accused political family. Not one more life should be snuffed out in this case.
7. Our main takeaway should be that the pursuit of justice, no matter how long it takes, is never an exercise in futility. More battles need to be won, and more campaigns need to be launched and sustained, as the killings and massacres continue under a different administration. This landmark verdict has caused a crack in what many think is an unbreakable dome of impunity currently enveloping and smothering our country. More vigilance and action from the people, and that crack will inevitably widen, and the dome will collapse. As in the Maguindanao Massacre, the day of reckoning and accountability will come.
Marjohara Tucay is part of the national secretariat of Altermidya Network, a national alliance of alternative and community media organizations.
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