Remembering the Ampatuan Massacre

Self arrived in the Philippines at the end of November, just after the one-year anniversary of the worst massacre in recent Philippine history.

On Nov. 23, 2009, 200 armed men confronted a convoy of supporters of the local vice-mayor, who were traveling to register his candidacy for an upcoming election. The thugs ordered all members of the convoy off the road and murdered them. It was a group that included 30 journalists and six unfortunate passersby who were killed merely to eliminate all witnesses.

Up in her room of the Montebello Hotel in Cebu, self was so engrossed in watching a documentary on the massacre, “The 58,” that she almost missed the Saturday dinner with other members of the Philippine Pen Congress. Oh, how she cried for the woman whose husband had been killed, who could only gesture in imitation of an embrace. For the man who talked stoically about his two young nieces, who had been killed.

The week before self got to Manila, The Philippine Inquirer published a series of articles about the Ampatuan family, who were accused of plotting the murders. Accompanying the article was a chart that showed the different branches of the family. Why was this chart important? Was it just so that the newspaper’s readers would know that the clan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., had four wives and eleven children? The Ampatuans, according to the Inquirer, have “controlled life and death in Maguindanao for more than two decades.” Ampatuan, Sr. was the governor of Maguindanao for almost a decade, from 2001 to 2009. The Inquirer notes that before the May 2010 elections, “most of Maguindanao’s 27 mayors were the sons, grandsons, or other relatives of Andal Ampatuan, Sr., including his son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., now charged with 57 counts of murder.”

The final scene of the documentary “The 58” showed Andal Ampatuan, Jr. proclaiming his innocence to the cameraman and the reporters who were interviewing him. He had extended his arms through the iron bars of his cell. Over and over, to the camera, he recited, “I am innocent! I am innocent!” His gestures were that of a supplicant, arms raised to high heaven. What a performance! The camera’s eye shrank from him (as did self, though she was absolutely mesmerized) As the camera pulled away, the man continued his insistent chant: “I am innocent.”

Self remembers hubby telling her, when the news first broke: “Did you see the picture of the alleged mastermind? He looks like he belongs in high school!” The implication being: if someone who looks like that could be a murderer, then anyone can be a murderer: your neighbor, your teacher, your doctor. Evil doesn’t have to look like a goose-stepping Nazi. Or someone with a swastika tattooed on his shaved head.

The Inquirer continues: “For more than two decades, the Ampatuans operated unchecked by the national police, the military, or the or the Department of Justice, which have not only failed to seriously investigate crimes allegedly committed by the family’s militia, but have even armed and worked alongside its members.”

Currently, 195 people have been charged, including 29 members of the Ampatuan family and their allies; over half of those charged remain at large. On the back page of the article are photographs of the victims’ faces. Among them were:

Mac Delbert “MacMac” Areola, 20, Cameraman for UNTV;
Rev. V. Merisco, 34, columnist for Periodico Ini
Eleanor “Leah” Dalmacio, 38, Reporter for Sorsogon News Today
Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon, 35, a Lawyer
Concepcion Brizuela, 55, a Lawyer
Gina de la Cruz, 41, Saksi Correspondent
Marites Cablitas, 38, Publisher, TV anchor
Alejandro M. Reblando, 54, Correspondent for Manila Bulletin and Reuters
Francisco “Ian” Subang Jr., 49, Publisher of Sorsogon News Today
Noel Decena, 28, Circulation Manager for Periodico Ini
Napoleon Salaysay, 57, Clear View Gazette Publisher and Editor
Ronnie Perante, 43, Correspondent for Gold Star Daily
Rubello Bataluna, 44, Correspondent for Gold Star Daily
Victor O. Nuñez, 24, UNTV Anchor
Fernando “Ranny” P. Razon, 44, Sales Manager for Periodico Ini
Norton “Sedick” Ebus Edza, 33, Van driver
Razul Bulilo Daud, 35, Van driver

The list just goes on and on. Now, it is late: well past 2 a.m. Self prays for those murdered souls.

Self thinks the trial should be televised. She wouldn’t miss a word.

Stay tuned.

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