Relatives of 14 victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre nearly dropped the murder charges they had brought against members of the Ampatuan clan because of the slowness of the government in compensating them, lawyer Harry Roque said on Monday.
Roque, chairman of the Center for International Law and lawyer for some of the relatives of the 58 victims of the Maguindanao massacre, wrote in his blog that the government’s failure to pay compensation to the families of the victims, whose right to life it had failed to protect and promote, had made the relatives consider settling with the Ampatuans.
“Fifty million. That was the demand of my clients who are willing to settle,” Roque said in a telephone interview with the Inquirer.
In his blog, Roque said his clients signed a “written authority” sometime in February for a third party close to the Ampatuans to negotiate a settlement.
But the negotiations for a settlement fell through because the negotiator for the relatives was killed two weeks after the signing of the authorization, Roque said in the phone interview.
“Under this scheme, the [relatives] were to sign not just a waiver and quit claims, but also an affidavit [in which they would pin] the blame for the massacre on [Maguindanao Gov. Esmail] ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu,” Roque said.
He said it was learning about his clients’ attempt to settle that prompted him to seek redress in the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC).
“On the occasion of the 43rd-month commemoration of the [Maguindanao] massacre, [the victims’ families] will resort to a filing of a communication with the United Nations Human Rights Committee for the Philippine government’s failure to accord the victims their rights to an adequate remedy under domestic law and compensation,” Roque wrote in his blog.
Roque cited two cases—the death of Philippine Navy Ensign Philip Andrew Pestaño and the killing of Eden Marcella—in which the UNHRC had declared the Philippine government owed the victims.
No end in sight
“It’s been almost four years and there is still no end in sight to the criminal prosecution of the Ampatuans,” Roque said.
He noted that it took the government almost four years to file the information for the 58th victim, journalist Reynaldo Momay.
“This should give us a clue to how long the criminal proceedings will take,” Roque said.
Close to 200 people, among them Andal Ampatuan Sr., former governor of Maguindanao province, are being tried for the killing of 58 people, 32 of them journalists, on Nov. 23, 2009.
Two of Ampatuan’s sons—Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan—are among the accused.
The killings were allegedly carried out to stop Mangudadatu from contesting the 2010 gubernatorial election in Maguindanao.
Mangudadatu, who won the election, lost his wife and several relatives in the massacre, the worst case of political violence in Philippine election history.
Hearing about the failed negotiations for a settlement Monday, Mangudadatu said he hoped the “criminal aspect of the case would not be affected.”
“I have not spoken to Attorney Roque. Assuming it’s true, on our part nothing has changed, because I have not lost hope. We will continue seeking justice,” Mangudadatu told the Inquirer by phone.
Roque said that had it proceeded, the settlement would clear the Ampatuans of only their civil liabilities.
“But the accused want the relatives to execute an affidavit saying that Governor Mangudadatu was to blame for the massacre. So in that way they want the criminal lialibity to be passed on to Mangudadatu,” he said.
How Mangudadatu could be held criminally liable for the massacre in which he lost his wife and some relatives, Roque said he did not know.
He said he had plans of going to Maguindanao to gather more information on the supposed settlement and what happened to the negotiator.
But one thing is clear to him. “The 14 relatives are willing to enter into a settlement,” he said.
“Unless the Philippine government complies with its duty to pay compensation, the victims will continuously be tempted with schemes that may eventually cause a miscarriage of justice,” Roque said.
He said the government’s duty to compensate the victims of the massacre is different from civil damages in court.
“Compensation is due to the victims because the state breached its obligation to protect and promote their right to live. This includes not just monetary compensation, but also all that may be required to restore the emotional and psychological well-being of the victims,” Roque said.