Pandemic stops kin of Ampatuan massacre victims from mass grave visit
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato, Philippines — The coronavirus pandemic is preventing families of those killed in the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao province from visiting the mass grave on its 11th anniversary on Monday.
Mary Grace Morales said she would be skipping her usual visit to pay respects to her loved ones and press for justice this year due to health, travel and mass gathering restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Morales’ husband Roselle and sister Marites Cablitas, both of the News Focus community newspaper, were among the 58 people killed in the town of Ampatuan in the massacre perpetrated by some members of the influential Ampatuan clan on Nov. 23, 2009.
They were with a group of mostly women that headed to Shariff Aguak town to file the certificate of candidacy (COC)for governor of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. The victims included 32 journalists and media workers, two lawyers, six motorists and the wife and sisters of Mangudadatu.
Mangudadatu sent his wife and several female family members to file his COC, but their convoy was stopped by some 100 heavily armed men headed by Andal Ampatuan Jr. and were herded to the hills where they were killed.
The massacre has been considered the worst election-related violence in the country and the deadliest single attack against media workers in the world.
Mangudadatu eventually won the gubernatorial race and finished the three terms before he ran and won as congressional representative of the second district of Maguindanao last year.
PrayersHe and his supporters usually mark the anniversary of the killings at the site every Nov. 23, but this time, he said he would not be going there. But he said he still expected at least 500 supporters to go to the site on Monday, assuring that they would follow health protocols “to prevent the virus from spreading.”
“We will offer ecumenical prayers at the site and continue to press our demand for justice,” he said in a phone interview on Sunday.
Morales said she would offer Mass at Forest Lake Memorial Park in General Santos City, where some of the victims were buried. The park management has allowed families and friends of the victims to hold a commemoration activity if they would observe health protocols, such as social distancing and wearing of personal protective equipment.
No real justice
“Even if some of the Ampatuans were already convicted, we still have not achieved real justice,” said Morales, who is also the secretary of the Justice Now Movement, the association of the families of media victims.
“Some of the suspects are still at large. The fight is still a long way to go due to the legal process,” she said. Morales was referring to the conviction in December 2019 of brothers Andal Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town, and Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
A court in Quezon City found the two brothers and 41 other coaccused guilty. But it acquitted 56, including Sajid Ampatuan, another brother of Zaldy and Andal Jr., who was then vice governor of Maguindanao at the time of the massacre. Sajid is now mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town.
Close to 80 other accused, a dozen of them surnamed Ampatuan, have remained at large.
Kath Cortez, a member of the national directorate of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the group would go online on Monday to commemorate the 11th year anniversary of the massacre. INQ
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