Conviction of Ampatuan massacre masterminds a long-deserved win for families of victims – Karapatan

Human rights group Karapatan welcomed on Thursday, December 19, the conviction of 28 suspects, including Datu Andal Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, in the infamous Ampatuan massacre that brutally claimed the lives of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists who were supposed to cover the filing of the certificate of candidacy of then gubernatorial bet Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
“We welcome the court’s decision to convict Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, who masterminded the heinous massacre on November 23, 2009. This is a long-deserved win for the families of victims of the Ampatuan massacre, who waited a decade for such a decision. We attribute this victory to the tireless pursuit of justice led by the families of the victims, as well as journalists in the country. This is just the tip of the iceberg as the accounts point out to the culpability of other actors, who should likewise be held accountable for this heinous crime,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

Palabay also assailed the acquittal of accused policemen: "It should be repeatedly registered that the Ampatuan massacre is a State-perpetrated atrocity that revealed the deep and extensive comnections between state forces and the local elite. The role and culpability of State actors must never be whitewashed."

According to her, the conviction of the individuals accused is not only a slap on the part of the Ampatuans, but also on their close ally, then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who was known for leading a regime plagued with human rights violations and impunity. Her government was infamous for committing human rights violations against journalists, dissenters, and social activists.

“We view the decision as headway, but we maintain that justice delayed is justice denied. With the fact that one of the accused Ampatuan was acquitted, some of the accused were out on bail and other legal remedies were accorded to the Ampatuans because of their friendship with powerful people, this decade-long trial is already a form of injustice for the families of the victims. Likewise, the fact that Gloria Arroyo basks in impunity and enjoys protection under the Duterte government is yet another indication that while there is triumph, it is incomplete," she said.

Palabay lauded the families of victims, journalists, human rights advocates, and individuals from civil society organizations who remained unswerving in the pursuit of justice for all the victims killed in the massacre, amid the relentless attacks and harassment perpetrated by the Ampatuans and their allies in the government.

“This only proves that years of hounding and demanding for justice pays off. As long as there is relentless efforts from families to exact justice and accountability, the fight will continue. Our justice system would have put this case in limbo if it were not for the resounding calls of families and journalists to remind the nation of this brutal crime. Many of our legal processes are subverted by murderers and plunderers to allow them freedom or simply wait for their crimes to be forgotten, but this case reminds us that impunity is not forever," she added.

The Karapatan official also urged the public to be “keen and vigilant” as Ampatuan’s staunch ally, Macapagal-Arroyo, is back in power, citing the Duterte regime’s efforts in rehabilitating human rights violators and criminals “who were once thrown in the garbage bin of history.” She added that “with Macapagal-Arroyo being part of Duterte’s immediate circle, along with other officials who share the same contempt for human rights, we are called on to remain vigilant.”

Palabay noted that “the friendship of Duterte and Arroyo can result in the eventual pardon of the Ampatuans, despite a court conviction,” citing the regime’s abetting of top criminals and plunderers, including the Marcoses who are now absolved from graft cases involving billions of ill-gotten wealth.

“While welcoming the court’s decision, we enjoin the public to remain vigilant in calling for the disbandment of private armies of warlords and politicians, as well as of paramilitary groups used by those in power to instigate state terror. More than ever, we need to be conscious of the worsening turn of the country's political climate, which is a fertile ground for criminals like the Ampatuans to plot their escape from accountability. Our conscience moves us to continue the fight for justice for all other victims of human rights violations,” Palabay concluded.