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Will there be justice for 32 slain journalists under the Duterte regime?

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) has expressed optimism that the court will rule in favor of the families of 58 people, including 32 journalists, who were victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

Atty. Nena-Santos private counsel in Maguindanao massacre

“We expect that justice will ultimately prevail for the victims and their families,” said Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, co-chairperson of the PTFoMS.

Andanar’s statement came after the Supreme Court has granted the 30-day extension of the deadline requested by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to rule on the multiple murder case against nearly 200 individuals tagged in the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao province in November 23, 2009.

The High Court extended the deadline for the ruling on the cases against the accused after Quezon City RTC Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes had sought more time to look into the “voluminous records” of the cases.

Joel Egco, PTFoMS Executive Director

The “voluminous” records include 165 volumes of proceedings, 65 volumes of transcripts of stenographic notes, and eight volumes of the prosecution's documentary evidence.

The verdict was supposed to be released on or before November 20, but the Supreme Court extended it until December 20.

PTFoMS co-chairperson, Undersecretary Joel Egco was hopeful that the families of the victims would finally get justice, a decade after the mass murder in Maguindanao.

“It is worth the wait. What is one month compared to 10 years? Lower courts usually go on Christmas break in mid-December. So the decision may be out by December 14,” he said. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra

“Without pre-empting the outcome, I am optimistic that the families of the victims will finally get the justice that they have been waiting for the last decade,” he added.

The victims were on their way to the Commission on Elections’ local office to witness the filing of the candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for 2010 gubernatorial race when they were flagged and killed by gunmen in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

Martin Andanar

Multiple murder cases were filed against Datu Andal Ampatuan, the principal accused in the case, and 196 co-accused.

Egco attributed the impending conclusion of the Maguindanao massacre case to the Duterte administration’s “political will”.

Andanar lauded those who worked hard in bringing closure to the “worst case of election-related violence.”

“We cannot help but be amazed at the dedication of the men and women of the law enforcement units, prosecutors, and most especially, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, whose passion for their work is exceeded only by their desire to see this case through its conclusion,” he said.

“This is another addition to President Duterte’s legacy, that one of the most despicable acts against journalists in the history of the world will finally come to a close during his term,” Andanar concluded.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who also chairs the PTFoMS, earlier expressed confidence that the prosecution would secure "a just decision at least as against the principal accused”.

CHRONOLOGY OF EVENTS

Court records show that from 6-7 in the morning the journalists gathered at the residence of Khadafeh Mangudadatu. He was instructed to be in charge of the journalists joining the filing of the certificate of candidacy (CoC) of his brother, then Buluan Vice Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

Journalists proceed to Toto Mangudadatu’s residence at around 7:30 a.m. The convoy supposed to file his CoC is scheduled to leave for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao at 9 a.m. but is delayed due to security concerns.

National Press Club of the Philippines

At 8 in the morning the Mangudadatus sought police and military assistance. In his counter-affidavit, Toto Mangudadatu said he called up Col. Medardo Geslani and P/Chief Supt. Faisal Ampao Umpa, Regional Director of PNP-ARMM. The military later explained that two battalions had just been pulled out, and requests for election-related security concerns should be coursed through either the police or the Comelec, which will then make the request to the military.

At 9:30 a.m. the convoy of seven vehicles left Buluan bound for Shariff Aguak, the provincial capital. In the convoy were two media vehicles—a Mitsubishi L300 van owned by UNTV, and a Pajero owned by dzRH reporter Henry Araneta; four Toyota vans owned by the Mangudadatus; and a tailing Toyota vehicle.

 

At 10:00 a.m. the Mangudadatu convoy passed through a checkpoint at Masalay Village, Ampatuan, Maguindanao from Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat. The convoy of at least five vehicles was flagged down by then-undetermined number of fully armed men.

Sworn affidavits of police officers manning the checkpoint narrated how the convoy had been ordered to stop for routine inspection when a group of around 200 men appeared and accosted the vehicles.

PO1 Hernanie Decipulo, a policeman manning one of the checkpoints, narrated in his sworn statement that around 10:00 a.m. of Nov. 23, a Tamaraw FX, a red Vios, a light Pajero and four Hi-Ace vans were flagged down at the checkpoint.

Decipulo said that after being flagged down, Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his armed men, riding in at least 10 vehicles, arrived. Andal Ampatuan Jr. had at least 100 men with him.

“Then, the armed men took charge of the seven waylaid vehicles. They ordered my fellow policemen to step aside,” he said.

Decipulo added that the CVOs and CAFGUs alighted from the vehicles and went to the waylaid cars. They took from the victims their personal belongings, including cellphones, ordered them to get off their vehicles and to lie down on the ground.

 

”They were asked to get back to the vehicles. Some of Andal Ampatuan Jr.’s men drove the waylaid vehicles en route to Ampatuan town,” he concluded.

Court records show that a yellow Komatsu backhoe was seen to stand at a hilly portion of Salman Village. Written on the backhoe are the words “Property of the province of Maguindanao – Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.

From 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. a series of gunfire shots reportedly erupted at Saniag Village, the area where the reportedly abducted vehicles are said to be brought (Napolcom report, Dec. 7, 2009).

In his sworn statement dated Dec. 7, 2009, witness and private army member Kenny Dalandag recalled seeing victim Bai Genalyn (Gigi) Mangudadatu who was the wife of Toto Mangudadatu.

Dalandag said Andal Ampatuan Jr. opened the car that carried Bai Gigi Mangudadatu and pulled her out. He said he saw Bai Gigi talking with someone over her cellphone. Andal Ampatuan Jr. slapped her and her phone dropped.

“We brought the Mangudadatu convoy to the inner portion of Brgy. Salman. Andal Ampatuan Jr. ordered everyone in the convoy to get off their vehicles, then he and my fellow armed men fired shots at them. Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his men repeatedly shot Bai Gigi until she died,” Dalandag narrated.

At around 11:00 a.m. information received by the 601st Infantry Brigade (IB) stated that five civilian vehicles were waylaid at Salman Village. Brigade Chief Col. Medardo Geslani, instructed the 64th Infantry Battalion to conduct operations to rescue the abducted persons.

From 1:00 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. the 64IB forces arrived at Masalay Village and coordinated with Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay of 15th Regional Mobile Group who was conducting a checkpoint there. Dicay said his group had no knowledge of the alleged abduction.

At 1:30 p.m. the 64IB with four armored vehicles headed towards Salman Village to conduct rescue operations where the abducted persons were allegedly brought.

At 2:50 p.m. the troops saw six vehicles along the trail after driving along the highway at Salman Village. Suspecting these may be the missing vehicles they immediately headed toward the site. 

 At 3:00 p.m. the gunmen apparently learned that Army units were approaching. They hurriedly fled.

Twenty-one persons were initially found dead inside and outside the vehicles. The victims were discovered to have borne multiple gunshot wounds.

Five vehicles are also found in the area and one backhoe. Various personal items, assorted empty shells and other documents are also recovered at the site.

There are three gravesites. A total of 35 bodies were found in the graves. The first grave has 24 bodies, including Genalyn, Eden and Farina Mangudadatu. The second grave has six bodies, and in grave three, five bodies. Some of the vehicles that carried the members of the convoy and civilians who were not part of the convoy were also found buried.

Will there be justice for 32 slain journalists under the Duterte regime? This question remains unanswered as media killings in the country continue. 

Source: National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

 

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