By Edwin O. Fernandez
AMPATUAN, Maguindanao, Nov. 23 (PNA) — Governor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu of Maguindanao on Monday led families and relatives of the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in marking the 6th year anniversary of the infamous killings.
More than 500 persons attended the ceremonies held at the site where 58 persons, 32 of whom were journalists, were mercilessly killed at about 10 a.m. on Nov. 23, 2009.
“I am not losing hope, even if others are,” Mangudadatu told the crowd gathered at the site.
“I remain optimistic of the conviction of the culprits before the term of President Benigno Aquino III ends next year,” he said, giving hope to relatives of the slain victims.
Aside from relatives, also present during the simple commemoration program held almost at the same time the manslaughter transpired six years ago, were key military and police officials, including Mindanao peace advocate Catholic priest Eliseo Mercado Jr.
Mangudadatu said the pain relatives of the victims felt due to delayed justice is the same pain he is nursing. Mangudadatu lost his wife and several relatives who filed his certificate of candidacy for the gubernatorial race of Maguindanao.
He told the crowd that there were moments he had thought of retaliating due to slow litigation.
“But I still believed in the country’s judiciary and that justice will be served soon,” the governor said of the infamous and shameful Maguindanao massacre, considered to be the country’s worst election-related violence in recent history.
Former Cotabato City Councilor Marino Ridao whose son, Anthony, an employee of National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB), was among those killed, said he too remained hopeful justice will arrive.
“I remain optimistic because we cannot do otherwise, we hope justice will be serve and the culprits remain in jail,” Ridao said in tears.
“My son was in the wrong time at the wrong place at that time,” he said in Filipino.
Emily Lopez, president of Justice Now Movement, admitted that many of the relatives have lost hope of achieving justice anytime soon.
“However, many of us remain optimistic and we will continue the fight regardless of the results,” she said in a phone interview.
The primary massacre suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., has remained in jail in Taguig along with his brother, Zaldy, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and several other suspects.
The alleged brains, according to witnesses, Andal Ampatuan Sr., died of liver cancer early this year.
A major player in the carnage who turned state witness was also present in the commemoration. Sukarno Badal who claimed he was with Ampatuan Jr. during the incident said he now fears for his life as he can be executed anytime soon for telling the truth.
Another suspect, Sajid Ampatuan, is out on bail after posting an Php11-million bond three months ago.
Parents and other family members of the slain journalists offered prayers and candles while Gov. Mangudadatu led the release of white balloons symbolizing the victims’ peace in the afterlife. (PNA)