By Allen Estabillo
AMPATUAN, Maguindanao, November 21, 2016 (PNA) — Editha Tiamzon’s eyes welled up with tears as she stepped into a fenced plot at a hill in Sitio Masalay of Barangay Salman here where white headstones stand in remembrance of the 58 people who died in a gruesome massacre seven years ago.
The site was one of the two spots where the remains of some of the victims, 32 of whom were media workers, were found hours after the November 23, 2009 killings.
Editha, widow of UNTV driver Daniel Tiamzon, visited the site for the first time on Sunday afternoon along with around 80 family members and colleagues of the slain journalists to commemorate the seventh year of the carnage.
“Napakasakit. Bumabalik sa akin ang mga alalala at nakikita ko ngayon kung gaano ka-brutal ang nangyari (It’s very painful. The memories are coming back and I can see now how brutal it was),” she said.
She finally agreed to visit the site after setting it aside the past years due to some concerns from her family, which is based in Metro Manila.
She joined a convoy from General Santos City, from where some of the slain journalists hailed, to the massacre site to also retrace the events that took place during the incident.
The group held a mass, lighted candles, and offered flowers at the headstones that carried the names of the victims.
The visit was part of the ongoing commemoration of the seventh anniversary of the infamous massacre, which had been dubbed as the single deadliest event for journalists in history.
The activity was organized by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) and the Justice Now Movement, which is composed of the relatives of the massacre victims.
In his homily, Passionist priest Fr. Rey Carvyn Ondap scored the country’s “compromised” justice system for the long-drawn trial of the massacre’s alleged masterminds led by members of the family of the late Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
“After seven years, this is no longer an Ampatuan massacre. This is a judicial massacre,” he said.
He noted that while the “Ampatuan kingdom” in Maguindanao is “gone already,” justice has remained elusive for the victims due to apparent lack of “delicadeza” of those running the justice system.
Fr. Ondap cited reports of maneuvering and manipulation of court proceedings as well as some rulings through supposed payoffs.
Ondap urged colleagues and the families of the victims to remain united and not lose hope in their continuing quest for justice even if it would take years or centuries.
He said everything in this world is temporary and “God will give us justice when we all face Him in heaven.”
“It should console us that someday, somehow, Christ — who rules everything — will give justice for this,” he said.
NUJP national chair Ryan Rosauro said the country should draw lessons from the grisly massacre and the ongoing trial of the suspects.
He said the killings showed the tendency of influential political families, like the Ampatuans, to abuse their power.
Rosauro also cited the apparent slow course of justice in the country, as seen with the trial of the suspects.
During a brief commemoration program at the site, some children of the slain journalists raised hopes of eventually getting justice.
Fifteen-year-old Rochelle Morales, daughter of slain journalist Rosell Morales, composed a song to express her feelings and aspirations over their ordeal.
“Hustisya di pa rin mapasamin…di pa rin susuko, ito’y pagsubok lang (Justice continue to elude us…we’re not giving up, this is just a test),” her song goes.
The victims were on their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009 to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu for governor when their convoy was waylaid.
Around 100 gunmen allegedly headed by former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. herded them off to a hilly portion of Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman and killed them.
Mangudadatu himself was spared because he had sent his wife Genalyn and several female family members to file his candidacy. The media workers were part of the convoy to cover the filing.
A total of 197 individuals have been accused of having a hand in carrying out the massacre, although four have already died. Among the primary suspects, 28 bore the surname Ampatuan.
Andal Sr. died of heart failure on July 17, 2015 while in detention.
The NUJP said of the remaining 193 people accused of complicity in the gruesome murder, 112 are detained and facing trial while 81 others are still free.
The last suspect to have been arrested was Akad Macaton, who was banned on September 3, 2016.
Prior to Macaton, suspect Denga Mentol, also known as Tho Cario and/or Ronnie Ofong, was arrested on November 17, 2015.(PNA)