Widow of Maguindanao massacre victim told to keep settlement talks secret | Inquirer News
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Widow of Maguindanao massacre victim told to keep settlement talks secret

Site of the Maguindanao massacre. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

GENERAL SANTOS CITY, Philippines – Keep it to yourselves.

This was the instruction that a widow of one of the 58 victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre received from the unidentified negotiator for an out-of-court settlement.

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“The negotiator told us (families representing 12 victims) not to tell this to our lawyer or even to our fellow victims,” the source, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer source also said the negotiator told them not to bring any companion during pay off at the time and venue that he, himself, would determine.

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“The three of us (she and two others) did not agree because we felt it was a set up,” the source said.

The meeting took place near a mosque in Purok Islam, a slum area near a public market in Barangay (village) Dadiangas South here. It was set about two weeks after the first meeting sometime last February between the families and the alleged “Ampatuan negotiator” in Koronadal City.

The negotiator, she said, did not mention any amount, adding “it all depends on how much they can afford.”

The source said she left the meeting as she was suffering from stomach ache at that time.

“The following day, the third meeting took place in an undisclosed place. Somebody called up telling me that the group was waiting for me to sign the documents. But I did not go,” she said.

An official of the Justice Now Movement (JNM), who also asked not to be identified, confided to the Inquirer that these series of meetings were just among the many attempts by the camp of the accused to bribe the families of slain journalists.

“In 2011, they offered an initial P50,000 cash assistance to help the orphaned children of the victims enroll in schools. Then after enrollment, they would release the remaining P100,000 on condition that the families must agree to sign an amicable settlement,” the JNM official said.

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The offer was made to five families of the media victims based in General Santos, but they turned it down.

In the same year, the JNM official said, a negotiator came over and dangled a P25-million offer to the families of the victims in exchange of the dropping of charges.

But the plan was exposed and the negotiation was derailed.

She disclosed that during the February meeting in Koronadal City, the negotiator gave P200 transport allowance and a packed lunch to those who attended.

“Based on information I got from our members, they were offered a P5 million lump sum. The group demanded P10 million but they were told that the offer was just P5 million, take-it-or-leave-it,” she said.

The families were not given a copy of the documents they signed and until now they have not received any amount, the source said.

“What happened was very disappointing. We appeal to our members to remain strong,” the JNM official said.

JNM chair Emily Lopez told the Inquirer she respected the decision of some families who agreed to a settlement.

“I have witnessed how these families suffer. They lost their breadwinners in the Ampatuan massacre. The delay in the administration of justice makes them vulnerable to bribery. Government must really do something to expedite the process,” Lopez said.

Lopez is the first cousin of Periodico Ini correspondent Arturo Metias, one of the 32 journalists killed in the carnage.

The Metias family had executed a special power of attorney giving Lopez full authority to represent them in the case.

“Their miserable situation compelled them to bite the bullet. I’m worried that our case might be affected because of this disappointing turn of events,” Lopez said.

She vowed to continue the fight to the bitter end, “Even if time comes I’m the only one left.”

She said she got the names of those who agreed to a settlement.

“I knew who they are. But, right now I can’t give you their names. I have to meet first with our lawyer then plan out our next move,” she said.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmail Mangudadatu, whose wife and two sisters were among those killed in the massacre, said a rumor about the bribery reached him as early as February but he did not have a way of verifying it.

“Despite efforts, I could not get a copy of the alleged document signed by eight, not 14 private complainants. What was consistently said to me was an Ampatuan emissary attempted to talk to them (all media victims) and a number agreed to meet,” he said.

Mangudadatu said he was later told that on the day of meeting, many backed out and nobody agreed to sign anything.

“That being the case, I did not think it necessary to follow through,” he said.

Mangudadatu said during a meeting at the Department of Justice, lawyer Harry Roque also mentioned the same report to him.

But he said he went there to know if Roque had a copy of the document allegedly signed by the relatives.

Mangudadatu said he could not believe the reports of a settlement, having not seen the supporting documents.

“If Roque has a copy, why reveal it to media? Why not include the document for marking in the pretrial conference since such document is proof of guilt?” Mangudadatu asked.

Mangudadatu said he could not avoid becoming suspicious of Roque’s intention.

“Assuming he learned of it May 30, why did he post this article on his blog only this week (almost a month later)? The release of the news is also suspect because it coincides with the June 26 arraignment of three Ampatuans: Anwar Sr., Akmad Tato and Sajid Islam,” he said.

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TAGS: courts, Crime, Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, Harry Roque, law and justice, Maguindanao massacre, multiple murder, Murder, News, out-of-court settlement, trials and litigation
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