Almost nine years to the day, 58 people in an election motorcade were slaughtered in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province. Their killers tried to cover up their crime by burying their victims and their vehicles in mass graves that had been excavated days before.
The 58 people included at least 34 journalists who were covering the motorcade of Esmael Mangudadatu, who was challenging a member of the powerful Ampatuan clan for the position of governor in the 2010 elections. Mangudadatu sent his wife, two sisters and an aunt to file his certificate of candidacy in his stead, believing rather naively that his enemies would would not hurt women because this was not a part of Muslim culture.
It was a deadly miscalculation.
In one of the country’s bloodiest convulsions of political violence, about 100 armed men said to be working for the Ampatuans ambushed the convoy of six vehicles on a lonely stretch of highway and drove them to the top of a hill that appeared to have been a prepared killing ground a few kilometers from the highway.
TV footage showed bullet-ridden bodies sprawled around the vehicles; others had been thrown into a mass grave and covered with earth. There were signs that the killing was done at point-blank range, using high-powered firearms.
Several women were raped before they were killed. Mangudadatu’s wife, two sisters—one of which was pregnant, and an aunt, also with child, were murdered, along with journalists, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy.
In January 2010, least 198 suspects, including Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Andal Ampatuan Sr. and several other members of the Ampatuan clan, were charged with murder.
Since the start of proceedings in January 2010, a total of 253 witness have been presented—190 from the prosecution and 63 from the defense.
But nine years after the massacre, only 115 of the 200 accused have been arrested.
Of nearly 200 accused, only 115 had been arrested.
At least three witnesses have been killed and two potential witnesses survived attacks then refused to testify.
On July 17, 2015, Ampatuan Sr., the principal accused in the massacre, died at National Kidney and Transplant Institute.
Throughout the trial there were allegations of bribery and deliberate attempts to delay the proceedings.
But now, a decision is finally in sight, after the Department of Justice submitted the case for resolution by the Quezon City Trial Court Branch 22.
Ating Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon said that Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is now expected to set the promulgation of the case where she will decide whether to convict or acquit the accused.
As we approach the ninth anniversary of the massacre on Nov. 23, all eyes will be on the Quezon City court and how the judge decides. It is our fervent hope that the 58 men and women who were murdered on that fateful day will finally get justice, albeit nine years late.