“How long will the trial take? 10 years? 20 years? We are getting old.” – Maria Cipriana Gatchalian, 61, widow of journalist Santos P. Gatchalian Jr.
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By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – After four years since the gruesome killing of 58 civilians took place in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, relatives of the victims expressed frustration at the slow pace of the trial. Thirty-two of the 58 victims brutally killed on Nov. 23, 2009 were journalists.
Addressing Aquino, Maria Cipriana Gatchalian, 61, widow of journalist Santos P. Gatchalian Jr., said in Filipino, “We hope you fulfill your promise to us, that you will help us in our case.”
Mrs. Gatchalian said that during the electoral campaign in 2010, several relatives of the victims had an audience with Aquino. “He talked to us and promised he would help speed up the case. We have been counting on that promise…but with the way things are going, it seems it would not be realized.”
The trial, which began on January 5, 2010, is locked up in bail proceedings with 63 of the suspects filing petitions for bail. According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), eight members of the powerful Ampatuan clan are named suspects but no one has been convicted yet. Eighty-eight suspects remain at large.
“How long will the trial take? 10 years? 20 years? We are getting old,” Mrs. Gatchalian said.
Noemi Parcon, wife of Joel Parcon, one of the victims, recalled that after Aquino assumed the presidency, they went to Malacañang twice. “We submitted proposals. Nothing happened. We are not receiving any assistance from the government.”
In tears, Alejandro Reblando Jr. recalled the day they recovered the body of his father Alejandro “Bong” Reblando Jr. “Every time we hear people mention the Ampatuan massacre, we cry because we remember our daddy … His face was beyond recognition.”
“It feels like it just happened yesterday,” Reblando said.
The daughter of two innocent motorists who were among those killed in the Ampatuan massacre also broke in tears.
“I lost both of my parents,” Marija Charmaigne Lechonsito, daughter of Eduardo and Cecille Lechonsito, said. Eduardo was a government employee in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat. The Lechonsito couple and three others were on their way to a hospital when armed men, believed to be the private army of the Ampatuans, blocked their vehicle.
“What happened to Pnoy’s [Aquino] statement during his SONA [State of the Nation Address] that he would give justice to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre,” the young Lechonsito said. “It has been four years and still, there is no justice.”
In an interview with Bulatlat.com, Monette Salaysay, widow of Napoleon Salaysay said, “For four years, we have been living in anger and pain. The justice system in our country only serves the powerful.”
Mrs. Salaysay said she was once charged with contempt for her statements about the trial. “My words can’t kill. Why don’t they detain and punish those who killed 58 individuals?”
“We may be poor but we are not fools,” Mrs. Salaysay said.
In response to a statement from Malacañang, Harry Roque, legal counsel of the families of 14 of the victims, said, “How can we believe that this [case] is priority when 88 suspects have not been arrested? It’s all PR [press release].”
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said, “The human rights rhetoric of the government of President Benigno Aquino III has not transformed the dangerous reality on the ground.” “As Aquino enters the last half of his six-year term in office, he should recognize that he will be ultimately judged by his actions, not his words,” Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch said.
The relatives joined the protest march to Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge this afternoon.