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Victims of Maguindanao massacre

Of all the victims, only Bebot’s body has not been accounted for. All that we had were testimonial evidence that he was part of the group of reporters who covered the filing and that he has not been heard of since.

Harry Roque

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I have written before about the need to revert to the inquisitorial system in order to avoid similar travesties of justice as what happened to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. This year, as we commemorate the 10th year of the massacre, allow me to share the stories of some of the victims.

Erlyn Umpad was 18 when her live-in partner, Mac-Mac Areola of UNTV, perished in the Maguindanao massacre. It is dubbed as the single “most murderous attack against journalists.” At least 34 of the 58 victims of the massacre were journalists.

At the time of the massacre, Mac-Mac left a 13-day-old child, Japed. Today, Japed is 10 years old. Every 23 November for the past nine years, her son would ask her why she bothers to go to Manila when the killers of his father will not be punished anyway. Erlyn can only cry every time Japed would ask her same the question. This 23 November, she hopes would be the last year that her son would ask her the same question.

Erlyn and her son are among the victims who have been waiting and longing for justice for their loved ones. Erlyn has had to fend for herself and her son after the massacre since Mac-Mac was then their sole breadwinner. Erlyn’s story is similar to that of Monette Salaysay, Noemi Parcon, Myrna Reblando, Zenaida Duhay, Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian, Glenna Legarts, Arlyn Lopogan, Mary Jean Marisco, Maura Montano, Francisco Subang and Ivy Cadagdagon, all of whom are wives, spouses or partners of victims of the massacre whom we represent.

Bong Reblando was a regular employee of the Manila Bulletin and was the only full-time journalist of all the media men who perished in the massacre. Bong’s last byline was on the Pacquiao fight. It was the banner story of the Bulletin the day before the massacre. According to his wife Myrna, who herself had to go through clinical depression and has since sought asylum abroad because of threats to her life, Reblando was positive that his closeness to the Ampatuan clan would guarantee his safety when he went to cover Toto Mangudadatu’s filing of his certificate of candidacy for governor in 2009. He was wrong. The bullets that shattered his brains did not know friends nor foe of the Ampatuan clan.

Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo, a registered nurse, has migrated to Wisconsin since the massacre. Reynafe lost her father Robert “Bebot” Momay of the Midland Review in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat. Unlike other victims of the massacre, Reynafe and her family could only light a candle in remembrance of her father every 1 November. Of all the victims, only Bebot’s body has not been accounted for. All that we had were testimonial evidence that he was part of the group of reporters who covered the filing and that he has not been heard of since.

There too are mothers. Catherine and Juliet were mothers to Victor Nunez and Julito Evardo, both of whom are from UNTV. Only UNTV had a civil claim for damages of all the news agencies that sent reporters to the coverage since its vehicle was among those that were sought to be buried together with the bodies of the victims.

Sugar and Stephanie are children of the spouses Eduardo and Cecille Lechonsito. The latter were mere bystanders who happened to be at the same junction where the convoy was stopped by armed men in Maguindanao. The Lechonsito spouses were ironically on their way to Cotabato City for medical treatment. The remains of Mrs. Lechonsito was also positive for traces of sperm in her private parts bolstering our suspicion that she was also raped before being killed.

Finally, there is Jessie. He was not a victim but one of the shooters in the massacre. He was conscripted into the private army of the Ampatuans when he was merely eight years of age and has since been a trusted security personnel of the clan. He reported directly to Datu Kanor, a kin of the Ampatuans who remains at large.

We presented Jessie to the media after the Department of Justice then did not accept him into the Witness Protection Program. For a while, religious sects gave him sanctuary until heavily armed men not belonging to the State invaded one of the seminaries where he sought refuge. For the first time, I will acknowledge that the Magdalo group also gave him sanctuary for a limited period of time. But after six months in hiding, he could not stand the lifestyle of one who was hunted and he went home to Maguindanao. He was murdered in cold blood on the second day after he returned to his hometown. Unlike the 58 victims of the Maguindanao massacre, Jessie will not and cannot hope to obtain justice. He will remain nameless, faceless and forgotten even as the 58 victims of the massacre are accorded justice on 20 December 2019.

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