MANILA – Families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre welcomed Malacanang’s assurance of resolving the case before the end of President Rodrigo Duterte’s term.
Noemi Parcon, widow of Joel Parcon of Prontera News, said she and other families of victims once pinned their hopes on the administration of former president Benigno Aquino III, but in vain.
She said their hope was rekindled when Duterte became president because they believe that his campaign against drugs and corruption would help expedite the case.
“Dahil alam namin, nagawa yun ng mga Ampatuan, nasa influence sila ng drugs. Alam namin na sa aming lugar, isa sila sa mga drug lords. Sila ang mga nagpo-produce ng mga shabu, may shabu laboratory sila (We know that the Ampatuans did it because they were under the influence of drugs. We know that they are one of the drug lords in our place. They are the ones who produce shabu. They have a shabu laboratory),” Parcon said.
“Kaya nagkaroon kami ng malaking pag-asa dahil ang kampanya ng ating bagong pangulo ay ang paghinto ng droga sa ating bansa. (Our hopes were renewed because the President’s campaign was to stop the drug trade in the country.) We are very happy,” she added.
On corruption, she said it is no secret that the Ampatuan clan is rich and powerful.
“There are some officials of our government na naano siguro ng corruption dahil alam natin na ang kalaban namin ay maraming pera (There are some officials of our government who were influenced by corruption because we know that our enemy is rich),” she said.
She said there were earlier attempts to bribe them out, but these stopped when her group showed its determination to pursue the case.
“Maski walang pera basta makamit lang namin ang hustisya (It is fine even if we are poor, so long as we get justice),” Parcon said.
“Ngayon isa yan sa mga kampanya ng ating Pangulo. So malaki po ang aming tiwala, malaki po ang ating pag-asa na bago sya bababang Presidente ng Pilipinas, makakamit talaga namin ang hustisya para sa aming mga mahal sa buhay(That is one of the campaign promises of our President. We greatly trust and hope that we will get justice for our loved ones before the end of his term),” she said.
For Maria Cipriana Gatchalian, widow of Santos Gatchalian Jr. of the Davao-based Metro Gazette, only drug addicts could have done what was done to her husband.
She said her husband, who was riddled with bullets, was killed like an animal.
“Ang sabi ko, parang hindi tao ang gumawa nito. Ito ay kagagawan ng isang tao na isang addict, na isang demonyo(This is not the work of a human being. This is the work of a drug addict, a demon),” Gatchalian said.
“Kami ng mga anak ko, we have moved on. Pero ipagpapatuloy ko ang pakikibaka upang makamit ang hustisya para sa katahimikan ng husband ko at mga iba pang biktima ng Maguindanao massacre (My children and I have moved on. But we will continue to fight for justice, for the sake of my husband and the other victims of the Maguindanao massacre),” she said.
For the two widows, as well as the other relatives of the massacre victims, another four years is worth the wait, so long as justice is finally served.
“We have already waited for eight years, we can wait for four years more. But we would be happier if it could be finished earlier than four years,” Parcon said.
Meanwhile, Malacanang’s pronouncement coincided with the 8th anniversary of the massacre on Thursday. The incident claimed 58 lives, 32 of whom were journalists.
Also on Thursday, relatives of 13 media victims met with the President.
Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) executive director Undersecretary Joel Egco said the Maguindanao massacre case could be resolved, at a conservative estimate, within four years, based on the progress of the trial.
The case involves 58 counts of murder filed against 188 accused, 106 of whom are behind bars.
Three of the accused have died while in detention, including the alleged mastermind, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who died in July 2015 while confined at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City.
Meanwhile, 82 suspects are still at large.
Citing figures from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Egco said that thus far, the prosecution has terminated the presentation of 190 witnesses while the defense had presented 63 witnesses of its own.
Currently, 22 suspects have terminated their presentation of evidence, while another 21 are still presenting their evidence.
Of the 22 who have finished presenting their evidence, 13 have already been submitted for decision.
“A memorandum will be filed by the prosecution within the month for Akmad Ampatuan Sr. and Anwar Ampatuan Sr. and thereafter, these would be submitted for decision,” Egco said.
This would bring the number of suspects whose cases have been submitted for promulgation to 15, he said.
“The Department of Justice (DOJ) estimated that at the rate the trial is moving, which is three hearings per week, the case may be resolved at a conservative estimate of well within four years or well within the term of President Rodrigo Duterte. This is based on the assumption that the defense will present the same number of witnesses as that of the prosecution,” Egco said.
To further expedite the case, the PTFoMS chief said his office is pushing for a speedier trial and judgment for those cases already submitted for promulgation, and the intensified manhunt for suspects who are still at large.
As part of its mandate, the PTFoMS will also keep a close watch and strictly monitor the progress of the judicial process.
“After a long and tedious search for justice, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. That long period of uncertainty is finally over. Hoping against hope, we expect justice to be completely served for the victims and families of this most gruesome crime,” Egco said.
For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he would vigorously push for the “first in, first out system” he had earlier recommended when he was still a private lawyer for the media victims to further expedite the prosecution.
“This means that we don’t have to finish the presentation of all evidence against all the accused before there could be a promulgation of judgment. We could proceed with the promulgation of judgment against the accused whose presentations of evidence have already been concluded,” he said.
According to him, his proposal has been adopted by the Supreme Court.
“We are hoping that the cases of at least one or two of the accused would have been promulgated earlier than the four-year estimate of the DOJ. We need only one to put everyone behind bars,” Roque said.