By Ali G. Macabalang
AMPATUAN, Maguindanao – Hundreds of people converged at Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman here on Tuesday to reckon the massacre of 58 people at the same spot 12 years ago, with speakers led by Maguindanao Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu revealing stories untold in past commemorations.
The carnage was considered the bloodiest election-related violence in political exercises, and had placed the country in the global list of dangerous zones for journalists because 32 of the fatalities were media workers.
Some journalists and families of victims in the massacre gathered on Nov. 20, four days earlier, in Gen. Santos City, skipping the usual commemoration at the carnage site here in keeping with COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and due to “security concerns” at the regular venue, a published report said.
But more than 120 vehicles carrying some 800 people led by Rep. Mangudadatu, relatives and supporters drove to the hilly site from different directions in Maguindanao amid tight security preparations set up by combined military and police contingents.
Lt. Col. Ferdinand Dela Cruz, head of the 6th Mechanized Army Battalion, said his troops had cleared the site and its access routes days ahead to ensure a “smooth” commemoration of the massacre’s 12th year anniversary. He also led his contingents in full battle gears backed by armored personnel carriers to join Tuesday’s event here.
The latest reckoning was briefer compared to past episodes. It lasted less than three hours for speakers to deliver messages after the usual lighting of candles and laying of flowers on the death markers of 58 fatalities.
Rep. Mangudadatu led another prayer at the death markers’ site, seeking Divine guidance among political camps in Maguindanao to play politics in its ideal concept of fair and faithful facet as a vehicle for peoples’ free choice of their elective leaders sans harmful words and acts.
The first-term lawmaker is aspiring for the gubernatorial post he once held for three terms (2010-2019) in the May 9, 2022 elections against sitting Governor Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu, wife of his second cousin Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto “Teng” Mangudadatu. Former Board Member Yasser “Datu Puti” Ampatuan is a third wannabe.
The ghastly carnage marred Rep. Mangudadatu’s first gubernatorial attempt 12 years ago while he was vice mayor of now Buluan capital town.
Due to perceived threats from the then reigning clan of Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., mostly female kin of Mangudadatu led by his wife, two sisters and lady lawyers reportedly prevailed upon him to take the cudgel in filing his gubernatorial certificate of candidacy on the fateful day of Nov. 23, 2009 for the 2010 elections.
The slain relatives, with the company of 32 media workers, thought that protagonists in politics would spare female representatives in whatever degree of pre-election tense activity as Islam mandates respect for children, women and helpless elder persons. They were wrong, according to victims’ relatives, because over 100 armed men stopped the victims’ convoy at the highway, herded them to Sitio Masalay, and executed them.
The armed men were reportedly led by Andal AmpatuanJr., mayor then of Datu Unsay town, who wanted to run for governor unopposed like the way his father-governor did in two past elections, sources said.
The grieving Mangudadatu was able to file his gubernatorial bid documents later at the provincial elections office in Shariff Aguak, hometown of the Ampatuans, with the company of some national cabinet members alongside top military and police brasses. Public sympathy ostensibly helped lead to Mangudadatu’s gubernatorial victory in 2010.
Over 100 suspects including police elements and Ampatuan family members had been charged in court. Andal Sr. and some of his children – Andal Jr., ex-Regional Governor Zaldy, OIC-Gov. Sajid, and son-in-law Akmad Ampatuan, among others, were detained while on trial. Sajid was released on bail.
Before Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes laid down a guilty verdict in December 2019 on some of the principal suspects, Andal Sr. died of lingering ailment while in detention.
Judge Reyes ordered Andal Jr., his brother Zaldy and Anwar, and 25 other principals, to pay the heirs of 58 victims P155.5 million as civil indemnity, and for moral, exemplary, temperate, and actual damages, and for loss of earning capacity.
But in the advanced 12th reckoning in Gen. Santos City of the carnage, some journalists and kin of victims expressed vow to “continue the fight for justice,” noting that the guilty verdict has been pending appeal. Thus, the indemnity has yet to be carried out.
At the gathering here on Tuesday, Rep. Mangudadatu and his younger siblings, former Rep. Zajid and incumbent Bangsamoro Parliament Member Khadaffeh took turns in delivering messages to “call for final justice,” even as they lamented alleged insinuations from their estranged relatives in rival political camps for them to refrain from talking about the 2009 massacre.
Rep. Mangudadatu revealed for the first time that the inclusion in court charge sheets of some female suspects like Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and Sahara Ampatuan, among others, was allegedly instigated by his second cousin-turned-tough political foe Sultan Kudarat Gov. Mangudadatu.
He said Mayor Guiani-Sayadi was shocked to learn about a revelation similarly made by Rep. Mangudadatu in the presence of President Duterte in Malacañang last Oct. 26.
The lawmaker said his estranged cousin allegedly wanted to legally cripple all key players among the Ampatuan clan’s members and supporters to pave the way for the reign of the Mangudadatus in Maguindanao.
The couple governors, Mariam and Suharto, who were reportedly present at the Palace meeting have yet to give their reaction to the lawmaker’s claim. The Philippine Muslim Today news could not reach any of the couple before and at press time for comment.
Rep. Mangudadatu also disclosed how his family has been facing alleged persecutions from his cousin’s camp in a fashion similarly done by the Ampatuan clan.
He also announced his personal forgiveness to the late Andal Sr. after his demise, saying the latter would be up for Divine Judgment in the other life. (AGM)