Daughter of Maguindanao massacre victim: Is there really justice in PH?
MANILA, Philippines – A lot of changes have happened in the lives of the victims' families since the Maguindanao massacre in 2009. But if there's one thing that has remained constant throughout the years, it’s their unwavering pursuit of justice, no matter how elusive it is proving to be.
“Sobrang bagal ng hustiya at walang progress dahil hinahayaan maging ganito,” Reynafe Momay-Castillo told Rappler in an online interview. “Ang tanong ko na lamang palagi ay may hustisya nga ba talaga? Kailan namin makukuha itong hustisyang inaasam namin?”
(Justice is very slow and there’s no progress because they leave it as it is. My question is always, is there really justice? When will we get the justice we long for?)
On November 23, 2009, the convoy carrying Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s family members and supporters, and members of the media were attacked in Maguindanao – allegedly masterminded by Mangudadatu’s rival, the Ampatuans. They were just supposed to file Mangudadatu's certificate of candidacy for governor. (INFOGRAPHIC: Maguindanao Massacre case, 5 years on)
Fifty-eight individuals were killed, including 32 journalists. The last one to be recognized as a victim was Midland Review photojournalist Reynaldo Momay, Castillo’s father.
It took the family 32 months before the court recognized Momay as the 58th victim, through a set of dentures recovered from the site.
Every year since 2009, Castillo has joined the 57 other families who lost their loved ones in the tragedy. They all continue to grieve and long for the conviction of those behind the worst case of election-related violence and media killings in the Philippines.
“A lot of things happened to our family within the last 6 years,” she said. “The youngest brother of my dad passed away in 2013. My mom died in June this year without seeing any hint if there will be any conviction."
More action, less promises
In 2012, Castillo went to the United States to work as a nurse. She continues to monitor and take charge of her family’s quest for justice through her lawyers from Centerlaw Philippines, headed by Harry Roque, and friends from the media she made throughout the years.
But even from overseas, she can still see no significant progress in the case.
“It’s been 6 years of snail-paced court hearings,” she added. “It’s so sad, so frustrating.”
She is yet to gauge if the upcoming elections and the new administration come 2016 will have an effect on the pace of the Maguindanao massacre trial.
“Ang kinakatakot ko lang ay kung may aasahan ba kami sa magiging susunod na liderato ng bansa?” Castillo said. “Ano ba ang naging paninindigan ng mga tatakbo sa kasong ito? Anong mga pangako ba uli ang maririnig namin?”
(My concern is, can we expect anything from the next leadership of the country? What are the candidates' stand on this case? What promises will we again hear?)
In a media interview in October, then Justice Secretary Leila De Lima reiterated her belief that there will be some convictions before the term of President Benigno Aquino III ends in June 2016.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, meanwhile, said the Maguindanao Massacre trial is “expedited at the maximum.”
Castillo, however, continues to wait for concrete action rather than to cling to promises.
“Maniniwala lang ako if nandiyan na,” she explained. “Marami na ang pangako sa kasong ito ngunit as usual, napapako lamang lahat kaya frustrating ang justice system natin sa Pilipinas.”
(I’ll only believe it when something actually happens. There have been a lot of promises made but as usual, nothing happens, that’s why the justice system in the Philippines is so frustrating.)
In 2015, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 released decisions on appeals of temporary liberty made by primary suspects from the Ampatuan clan.
Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan’s petition was the only one approved due to “lack of strong evidence that warrants detention during trial.” He was released after posting bail amounting to P11.6 million ($247,000) two months after.
Meanwhile, Andal Ampatuan Sr passed away due to liver complications on July 17, almost 4 months after his bail petition was denied. He had been on hospital arrest at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute since June.
He filed his certificate of candidacy in October for mayor of Shariff Aguak, a known bailiwick of the clan.
For Castillo, the continuous rule of the clan of Maguindanao massacre’s primary suspects reflects the kind of politics the Philippines has.
“Ang pamumulitika sa Pilipinas ay napakadumi,” she said. “Ang hirap intindihin kasi walang delicadeza kaya nakakalungkot isipin ang ganitong bagay.”
(Politics in the Philippines is very dirty. It’s so hard to understand since there’s no sense of propriety, so it’s just so sad when I think about these things.) – Rappler.com