Even in death
AS ANDAL Ampatuan Sr., accused mastermind of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre, lay dying of advanced liver cancer at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City last week, a leader of the victims’ families spoke for many of them when she expressed a simple wish: “We want him to live longer to be able to witness the serving of justice. We want him to witness for himself that there’s such a thing as justice,” said Mary Grace Morales, secretary general of the Justice Now Movement.
When the former governor of Maguindanao and the founder of one of the most ruthless, most feared dynasties in Mindanao succumbed on Friday night, his death proved to be another body blow to the victims of the country’s worst outbreak of political violence: They and their grieving kin lost the opportunity for a full serving of justice. Over five years after the massacre claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 32 journalists and media workers, Andal Sr., his sons Zaldy and Andal Jr., and dozens of others are still defendants in a trial that is nowhere near its concluding phase.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima was quick to reassure the public about the consequences of the dynast’s death. “Andal Sr.’s death extinguishes his criminal liability, but not his civil liability for the massacre,” De Lima said. Further: “[His death will have] no effect on the trial of the case. Trial continues with respect to the other accused.”
But Morales’ eloquent hope, that the powerful leader of the Ampatuan clan “witness for himself that there’s such a thing as justice,” can no longer be met. It truly would have been fitting, just in every sense of the word, if Andal Sr. had lived to “witness the serving of justice.” We realize the trial is still ongoing, and that despite support from the Supreme Court many procedural obstacles still lie ahead, but we have always believed, and said so in this space even before the trial began, that the horrifying facts of the crime—the worst single attack on journalists in the world; the worst election-related spasm of violence in our country’s history; the most brazen act of impunity in living memory—could only have been possible in the political and economic context of an Ampatuan-dominated Maguindanao, of a province created by Andal Sr. to his particular specifications.
That the target of the ambush was the wife of a political rival (and relative) of the Ampatuans, on her way to file her husband’s certificate of candidacy; that this candidacy triggered a murderous rage among the Ampatuans, and that a plan was hatched to stop it in the most brutal way possible; that the plan was to divert the convoy on its way to file the certificate, kill everyone in it, and then bury the victims and their vehicles with a backhoe; that the plan was implemented despite the protective presence of members of the media; that the implementation of the plan included even other parties which just happened to follow the convoy; that, above all, the conspirators thought they could get away with it all—many believe all this could only have happened because Andal Sr. made it happen.
Eyewitnesses have asserted that the old man, the governor at that time, was in the meeting where the decision to kill the rival’s wife was reached. It hardly seems possible that such a major undertaking, done precisely to eliminate a direct threat to Andal Sr. (he was provincial governor at the time), could have been planned without his say-so. But even without his direct intervention, the insane plan could only have been thought of because of the way he ran his province: with brute force. He had one of the largest private armies on the island; even today that force, funded by his wealth, continues to exert considerable power in the province. Killing was simply a way of life.
So the “serving of justice” would have been particularly appropriate for Andal Sr. to witness. If, despite the continuing threats to the witnesses (the ranks of whom have been thinned by mysterious deaths), despite the lawyerly delaying tactics, despite the economic pressure on the victims’ families who remain determined to see the trial through, a guilty verdict is reached and Andal Sr. were still alive, then he would have known that there is such a thing as justice, and it can outlast wealth and power.
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