Amid the spectacle at the Senate on Wednesday and the speculation surrounding the involvement of high-level officials in the illegal drug trade, it was almost easy to forget that it was, as well, the seventh anniversary of the massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
It is even easier to lose track of what has been happening with the case after all these years, when many other national issues—controversies—have emerged and taken up the public’s attention.
Remember how furious and outraged and indignant we all were when we first heard about the impunity with which 58 people were murdered in broad daylight. What gall the perpetrators had, we said, not without a trace of frustration. It was true they felt emboldened to do what they did because they believed they controlled everything and they would never be made to pay for what happened.
Seven years on, it appears the perpetrators are right.
When the patriarch of the main suspects’ family died in detention, it felt like the victims’ families were robbed of the opportunity to see justice delivered by way of conviction and rightful punishment.
Sure, there are several suspects in jail. Trial is proceeding. But it has been years and the pace of the hearings has often been stymied by technical issues raised precisely to delay proceedings. The protracted trial has also sapped the energy out of the victims’ families, who must likewise deal with moving forward despite their setback. There must be food on the table and children have to be sent to school—all this, while attending trials and monitoring developments in the case to ensure the memory of the dead is kept and honored.
There is no doubt that the country faces equally important challenges on many different fronts. Underlying all these, however, is the sense of impunity with which crimes are committed. Nothing has changed, really, since that dark day in 2009. Many still feel they can do anything they want and not reap their consequences.
We need convictions and sentences soon—not in a century, not in two. The most grievous injustice would be not only for the case to drag on, but for the people to, eventually, forget.