May 22, 2024

After a decade, justice has been finally served to the families of 58 men and women, of whom 32 were journalists and media workers, who were brutally killed in the worst election-related violence in the country.
The Dec. 19 ruling of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court slapping maximum prison terms against the Ampatuans, who were tagged as the masterminds, and other accomplices for 57 counts of murder only proves there is still hope in our justice system no matter how slow the wheels of justice is in the country.
The verdict also gives a ray of hope to the powerless, who are victims of injustice by those in the halls of power such as the Ampatuans and other abusive political clans in other parts of the country.
Witnesses’ accounts had pointed out that the Ampatuan clan, with the leadership of then Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who died while in detention, deliberately planned the killing of his political rival, Esmael Mangudadatu, to stop the latter from filing his certificate of candidacy to challenge him.
Such gruesome massacre says a lot about the abuse of power by cruel leaders, who would cling on to their positions at the expense of anyone’s right to challenge them through democratic processes.
The Ampatuan clan, considered an ally of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, had been lording over Maguindanao for years and such picture is not that far from other political clan-laden areas in the country.
Let us not forget that the massacre brought to light the problematic picture on the still pervading culture of political clans in the country – with their guns, goons and gold.
It also brought attention to the problem on political allies, which further emboldened the Ampatuans to continue clinging to power and building their empire, while their people continues to be impoverished as funds that are supposedly for development goes straight to their leaders’ pockets.
Following the court decision, the government must seriously look into the political issues surrounding the massacre – the use of private armed groups, political dynasties, political patronage, and abuse of political allies, among others – more than just echoing the sentiment of journalists that it is a repression of press freedom.
Let the verdict be a light of hope to the country that has seen so much extrajudicial killings and impunity. The court ruling should allow Filipinos to renew our commitment to continue fighting for it no matter the cost, and no matter how long.
It is through sustained public vigilance and series of media reports that put pressure to the court to render the decision on the Ampatuan massacre after 10 long years.
The decision is an initial step forward for the victims and their families, as there is still a battle ahead, as the accused and their lawyers could still appeal the decision in the higher courts.
For all victims of extrajudicial killings, may they get the justice they deserve in our Philippine justice system. But if they are not able to, remember that there is a much Higher Court and a Supreme Judge, who would bring eternal punishment to those who do wrong against people, especially to the powerless and the oppressed.