By Ali G. Macabalang
AMPATUAN, Maguindanao: Full justice-seeking kin and friends of victims in the infamous massacre of 57 people, including 32 media workers, on Nov. 23, 2009 converged and reckoned the 11th year anniversary of the incident at its very site here last Monday.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and his siblings alongside selected friends led the event on a lower scale of commemoration due to state-prescribed protocol on social distancing in the COVID-19 pandemic.
While fewer people attended, supporters said the event was meaningful as it fell on Monday, the same day over 100 armed men perpetrated the attack on 57 people travelling on convoy supposedly to filed the gubernatorial candidacy in 2010 of Mangudadatu, then a Buluan town vice mayor.
Like in past 10 annual commemorations, the Mangudadatus lit candles on the massacre site markers of their loved ones led by the congressman’s wife, Ginalyn, two sisters, two female lawyers and other mostly female kin. They also performed dua’a (prayer) on the same spot to implore for full relief from pains spawned by the carnage.
The solemn rites preceded the traditional delivery of messages from the Mangudadatu brothers, starting from former Buluan Mayor Jhong, former Mangudadatu town Mayor Freddie, former Rep. Dong, Bangsamoro Parliament Member Toy to incumbent Rep. Toto.
Two witnesses in the massacre trial including former Vice Mayor Sukarno Badal and the media group represented by this writer anew also delivered messages meant to refresh minds and inspire people to help prevent a repeat of the incident that put Philippines in the global map of countries deemed dangerous for journalists.
I echoed the recent declaration from the Bangsamoro government officialdom, through Minister Naguib Sinarimbo, that assured media workers of its multi-pronged protection from work-related threats.
In behalf of his family members and other relatives of victims in the massacre, Rep. Mangudadatu reiterated utmost gratitude to Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for braving pressures in handling the protracted trials and for her guilty verdict on some key suspects in the carnage.
But he quickly added that their victory in the court decision in December last year was just partial because 80 other key suspects in the massacre remain at large.
Rep. Mangudadatu sounded off a profound appreciation of the role of President Duterte in his current administration that saw the court rendering decision finally after nine years of litigations, and as Davao City mayor then for lending his family a chopper used by searchers to immediately spot the massacre site.
“Kung hindi nagpahiram si Mayor Duterte noon ng helicopter, napakalaki ng posibilidad na hindi na natin nakita kung saan sila (victims) dinala at tinangkang ibaon ng mga salarin,” Mangudadatu pointed out.
He took exception to an adage that time heals wounds.
“Maybe time indeed has healed the once gaping wounds that has left us numb to the very fiber of our beings…but for most, if not all who are here with us would agree that what has transpired on that fateful November 23 morning 11 years ago is incredulously impossible to forget. Lahat tayong nandito ay may dala-dala pa ring lungkot, pait o maging galit,” Mangudadatu said.
He hinted at reported acts of massacre perpetrators in sexually molesting some of the female victims before all of 57 people were executed mercilessly.
“And for all the atrocity, malignancy and evil that happened that day, I still (wonder) how the perpetrators managed to hatch and carry out the deed as vile as the Maguindanao Massacre. Bakit nila nagawang lapastanganin at paslangin ang aking asawa at mga kapatid kasama ang 55 pang media personalities, supporters, at inosenteng sibilyan simply because of the task at hand or that they were in a wrong place at the wrong time,” the solon pointed out.
In separate message, former Buluan Mayor Ebrahim “Jhong” Mangudadatu said the tragedy was destined to happen to end the reign of impunity and feudalistic family in Maguindanao.
With overwhelming sympathy, the Maguindanao electorate catapulted Toto Mangudadatu to the governorship vie the 2010 elections drew media coverage by local and foreign journalists, and entailed unprecedented police and military security measures.
Monday’s reckoning event was provided substantial security assistance by police and Army elements led by Colonel Richard Sanchez, head of the Army’s Mechanized Battalion assigned in Maguindanao. (AGM)