Eight years of impunity
Thursday last week marked the eighth year of the Maguindanao Massacre and it went on like any other day, no longer commemorated by massive public outrage in the streets and in both mainstream and social media seen during the first few anniversaries of the gruesome event.
As expected, it proved to be another case of the nation’s amnesia which in recent years have gotten even worse.
The mass murder of 58 people, most of them journalists, in November 23, 2009, seems to have slipped away in the mind of the Filipino nation. It has been overtaken by other more recent controversial events and issues that, like the Maguindanao Massacre, also led to much hyped House investigations and court hearings that until now have failed to bring justice to the victims and their heirs.
Instead of justice, we saw more impunity throughout those eight years as vital witnesses had been killed while some of the suspects released.
Salvador Panelo, head of the legal team of the Ampatuan family, who are the main suspects in the case, now sits as the Chief Legal Counsel for President Rodrigo Duterte. On the other hand, Harry Roque, one of the lawyers of the families of victims, has been recently appointed as Presidential Spokesperson by Duterte.
It remains to be seen how these two key players in the Duterte administration will try toi influence the President in the case. Panelo is the more predictable of the two. He seems to love styling himself as a devil’s advocate.
More interesting to watch would be Roque, the human rights lawyer who is now Duterte’s top apologist. Will he live up to his principles and avert any move by Panelo to use his power to protect his clients?
During the campaign, Duterte had angry and strong words against corrupt politicians and many Filipinos voted for him due to his promise to end the culture of impunity. Yet, we have not heard much from Duterte talk about the Maguindanao Massacre much less condemn the Ampatuans, who are believed to be his friends.
But last Thursday, when he met some members of the families of the victims in the Maguindanao Massacre, President Duterte promised them that a verdict on the case would be served in their favor during his term. But he also said that the accused also reserved the “sacred” right to be heard.
It is ironic that Duterte emphasized this sacred right of the accused in this case amid all the furor over the utter disregard of such right in the thousands of cases of extrajudicial killings in the wake of the administration’s war on drugs. In fact, the President have likened criminals to animals who possess no human rights.
The murder of 58 people in Maguindanao in 2009 was one of the most brutal crimes ever committed but Duterte wants the rights of the powerful politicians accused to be the main suspects in the case to be treated as sacred. Duterte condemned the massacre of civilians committed by Americans in Balangiga, Samar, more than a century ago, but he has been nearly silent about the massacre committed in a place near his hometown in Davao eight years ago. The Ampatuan family, by the way, maintains a sprawling mansion in a subdivision in Davao City.
The President is notorious for his tendency to contradict himself or break his promise. But we are willing to take his word this time when he promised to the victims’ families that he would bring this case to justice during his term.
The President remains to be the only person who has the power to persuade the courts to hasten the resolution of this case. We have to give him another chance to fulfill his promise of ending the culture of impunity in this country. The Maguindanao Massacre is probably the worst case of impunity as a lot of journalists were among the casualties. It showed that perpetrators were not afraid of government authority or the media.
Today, we have a President that claims to wield an iron fist in enforcing the law. Let’s see if he can use that to crush the culture of impunity in this country, starting with the case of the Maguindanao Massacre. We have to remain vigilant as we continue to seek justice and always remember that incident eight years ago.
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