Footnotes to the Ampatuan Massacre
DATU PIANG, Maguindanao—On July 16, 2001, members of more than a hundred families were forced to evacuate from their otherwise sleepy and peaceful community in one barangay in this town.
It was a day that will be etched forever in the collective memory of these families. It was a Monday, a “regular” day for many residents of Datu Piang. Schoolchildren were getting ready for school, as early as six in the morning. A teenage member of one family was at that time getting ready to go to the Maguindanao campus of Mindanao State University where he was a college student then.
He was never able to go to the university that day.
Instead, he went through a weeklong harrowing experience of having to dodge the bullets of around a thousand armed men that harassed the barangay where he came from.
Meanwhile, his parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and other relatives scampered for safety going to whatever direction they thought would bring them out of that fiery hellhole.
The armed men bore long firearms, like M-16 Armalite rifles. Among them were members of the dreaded Citizen Armed Forces Geographical Unit or Cafgu, and some elements of the Philippine Army deployed as part of the security forces of the late Maguindanao strongman/warlord Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Members of more than 100 families that were forced to evacuate that fateful day soon learned that they were subjected to this massive harassment on orders of the Ampatuan patriarch.
The narratives of the horrific experiences of the victimized families were never told in public. For more than 18 years, they have tried to bury their bitter experiences in their subconscious. They never wanted to draw attention to their collective pain—they were silenced in their fear of the strongman and his goons who might harm any one of them in the place in Cotabato City where they had evacuated.
But aside from harassing the hapless families, the armed men also ransacked all the families’ dwellings, stole their farm animals, and practically uprooted concrete structures that used to be the homes of more than 100 families. Even their lowly flowerpots were not spared. Hectares of mature corn being eyed for a bountiful harvest were also destroyed—the armed men were not only bullish in driving the people out of their homeland, they were also determined to wreak havoc on everything precious to all of them.
Why are these stories being shared only now?More than a week ago, three Ampatuan siblings, Andal Jr., Zaldy and Anwar Sr., were sentenced to 40 years of reclusion perpetua for having masterminded the now infamous “Ampatuan” Massacre. Fifty-eight people—32 journalists among them—died in that gory incident.
The massacre was the highlight of the long reign of impunity associated with the family of Datu Andal and their armed escorts and minions. Ordinary people cowered in fear whenever they saw this family’s henchmen brandishing firearms, harassing villagers not only in Datu Piang, but in other communities in Maguindanao as well.
Now that some justice is served to the massacre victims, others who suffered during the Ampatuan family’s reign of terror in Maguindanao would like to make it known far and wide that the massacre was just one of their monstrous acts.
Stories of more than 100 families from one barangay in Datu Piang are mere footnotes to the grisly 2009 massacre.
But they are important reminders that a family that ruled with impunity was only made possible because then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo propped the Ampatuans up by providing them wherewithal to sustain their abusive rule. And government resources were used for this purpose.
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