‘No one can escape the justice of God’
“Heaven has heard the cry of the poor.’’
So said Ozamiz Archbishop Martin Jumoad, who lauded the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court convicting Andal Ampatuan Jr. and other members of the powerful clan guilty of the 2009 massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao province.
“No one can escape the justice of God. So be it. The court of the land has spoken,’’ he added.
But Jumoad said he was hoping that those who were acquitted of the crime truly deserved the verdict.
Vice President Leni Robredo, local and international rights groups, Malacañang, media groups and senators also lauded the ruling handed down by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.
Day of reckoning
She said the verdict was a reminder that all those who transgress would have their day of reckoning and the “rightful end” to the decadelong trial of those accused in the world’s single deadliest attack on media workers.
Human Rights Watch said the court’s decision should help provide justice to families of the victims and promote greater accountability for rights abuses in the country.
“Advocates should use this verdict to spur further political and judicial reforms to ultimately end the impunity that has plagued the country for far too long,” Phil Robertson, the group’s deputy director for Asia, said in a tweet.
This should prompt the Philippine government to dismantle private armies that led to the massacre, he said.
Amnesty International called the conviction of the Ampatuans “a critical step toward justice” as he echoed the call to dismantle private armies.
The group’s regional director, Nicholas Bequelin, however, said the search for justice had not ended as dozens of suspects were still at large.
He noted that several witnesses were murdered as the trial dragged, and that they deserved justice, too. While lauding the guilty verdict, rights group Karapatan denounced the acquittal of some of the accused, mostly police officers.
“It should be repeatedly registered that the Ampatuan massacre is a state-perpetrated atrocity that revealed the deep and extensive connections between state forces and the local elite,’’ said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.
‘’The role and culpability of state actors must never be whitewashed,” she added.
Saying “the rule of law has prevailed,” Malacañang hailed the conviction of several members of the Ampatuan clan.
“Criminals who murder or in any way endanger journalists in this part of the world will not go unpunished,” said Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, cochair of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security.
President Duterte’s spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, said the landmark ruling meant that the government “will have to do its utmost to protect those who not only uphold press freedom, but exercise the same.”In Olongapo City, a chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said the verdict should intimidate those who wanted to curtail press freedom.
“We would like to believe that it (verdict) is a small step toward ending the culture of impunity that has really no place in our society,” the group said in a statement.
In Baguio City, media workers welcomed the ruling but described it as “partial justice.” Many of the accused were acquitted while 80 more remained at large, they said.
“Justice will only be fully served when all of those involved and responsible are brought to the bar of justice,” the NUJP Baguio-Benguet chapter said.
It added: “[Impunity] continues to reign that emboldens perpetrators and masterminds of gruesome attacks against journalists and the people, knowing that they can escape unscathed.”
In Isabela province, journalists and communicators said they were happy that most of the accused were found guilty.
“The verdict is a huge victory against the long history of injustice and impunity in the country,” said Mae Pablo, a law student.
Though the litigation was “too long,” Jaimar Dianco, a mass communication student, said the ruling was “a victory for press freedom.”
Start of journey
Senators said the guilty verdict on the masterminds of the massacre was a triumph of justice, but some of them saw only the beginning of the journey.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said the ruling was the first step toward healing, accountability and justice. For there to be true justice, violence carried out by political dynasties must end, she said.
“The road to justice ends when we ensure that any similar attack on the free press and our democratic rights never happens again,” she added. —REPORTS FROM TINA G. SANTOS, JHESSET O. ENANO, PATRICIA DENISE M. CHIU, JULIE M. AURELIO, LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT, KIMBERLIE QUITASOL AND VILLAMOR VISAYA JR.
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