By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA –Wearing a black dress, Monette Salaysay took the stage and began speaking. Her voice broke and her tears fell the moment she uttered the name of her husband, Napoleon, one of the 32 journalists killed in the Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009.
“After two years, I thought I would no longer cry. But it still pains me,” Salaysay said in Filipino. “What makes it even more painful is the fact that the killing was brutal and that the former president knew how evil the perpetrators are.”
“I knew little about the law but I can say that we are just being given the runaround,” Salaysay, who religiously attend hearings, said. Since the massacre, only two members of the Ampatuan clan who are suspected of masterminding the carnage have been arraigned.
In the room are many other relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Like Salaysay, they have lost their husbands, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, co-workers and friends to state violence. Now, as they continue to mourn and to search, they have started raising their fists against a monster called impunity.
More than 300 individuals joined the launching of the End Impunity Alliance in Manila, Aug. 18.
“It is difficult to have high-profile enemies. I don’t know what kind of due process should be accorded to the suspects. All the witnesses have pointed to the Ampatuans. How will impunity end if the justice system is like this?” Salaysay asked.
Winston Balao, brother of James, shared the same sentiments about the justice system.
Winston said they went from one camp to another in search of James but had been denied entry even if they had Commission on Human Rights (CHR) officials with them.
“For the first two years, we could not see any light,” Winston said. He was angered at how the authorities implied that their relatives or James’s colleagues were behind the abduction.
“In such a dark place, we find a ray of light during gatherings like this,” Winston said.
Ernan Baldomero, son of Fernando Baldomero, the first victim of extrajudicial killing under the Aquino administration, also denounced the slow grind of justice.
Fernando, a municipal councilor in Aklan, was shot dead on July 5, 2010.
During his first State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Benigno Aquino III pledged to solve the cases of extrajudicial killings. Aquino even said authorities already identified the suspect in the killing of Fernando.
After more than a year, Ernan said, the court just recently issued a warrant of arrest for the gunman.
Satur Ocampo, Makabayan coalition president and former Bayan Muna representative, noted that Aquino promised several times that he would put an end to the killings. “When he said that 50 percent of the cases have been resolved, he was referring to only six cases. Now, the case of Baldomero is not even resolved yet and 48 more have been killed,” Ocampo said.
Baldomero also served as chairman of Bayan Muna in Aklan.
Bishop Felomino Ang also expressed frustration at the snail-paced court hearings on the murder of Benjamin Bayles.
Bayles was killed by two gunmen on June 14, 2010. The local police arrested the suspects who were identified as members of the 61st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army. The two suspects introduced themselves as fish vendors.
“Where can you see fish vendors with .45 caliber pistols? It is clear that the two suspects are soldiers,” Ang said. “Their lawyers are from the military. What is their business defending them if the suspects are not soldiers?”
Ang said he feared a possible whitewash, saying that the prosecutor, witnesses and even journalists covering the hearings are being harassed. “It has been more than a year and the two hand guns used in the killing have not been turned over to the court,” he said.
In her keynote address, Mrs. Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas, captured the agony of the other relatives of victims.
”That we have gone through the all the avenues of the justice system available to us throughout the more than four years that Jonas has been missing, is a testimony that there remains the minutest element of respect for the system. But even that is slowly being eroded. And to think that the case of Jonas is moving fast according to observers. We can imagine how the families of other victims feel as their cases drag in court,” Mrs. Burgos said.
“However, even as we go through the slow and seemingly deliberately long-drawn-out process of the justice system, we have this feeling that soon, very soon patience would run out. This feeling not of impatience but of exasperation (an understatement) is inflamed by the continuous occurrence of violations of human rights… enforced disappearances and extra legal killings continue,” she said.
Since Aquino assumed office on July 1, 2010, Karapatan has already documented 50 cases of extrajudicial killings, eight cases of enforced disappearance and more than a hundred cases of illegal arrests and detention.
Mrs. Burgos said: “I honestly believe that the ongoing campaign waged in the guise of fighting terrorism (Oplan Bayanihan) yet uses violence is evil.”
In its declaration, the End Impunity Alliance called on Aquino to keep his promises and hold accountable the previous Arroyo administration for the numerous human rights violations committed under its watch.
“We call on the new president to stop the extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, enforced disappearances, forced evacuation of rural villages and other human rights violations which continue as brazenly to this day. He should likewise hold accountable and see to the prosecution of the perpetrators during his incumbency,” the alliance said in a statement.
Conveners of the alliance include Caloocan Bishop Deogracias S. Iñiguez, Jr. and Bp. Solito K. Toquero, Co-chairs of Ecumenical Bishops’ Forum; Rev. Fr. Rex RB. Reyes Jr., General Secretary of NCCP; Rev. Fr. Quirico Pedregosa, Co-chair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines; Obispo Maximo Ephraim Fajutagana of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente; Bp. Reuel Norman O. Marigza, General Secretary of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP); Bp. Elmer Bolocon, Bishop Emeritus, UCCP.
Award winning director Joel Lamangan, actor Allen Dizon, Gwen Pimentel, Marie Hilao Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, Cristina Palabay, Tanggol Bayi convenor and several human rights lawyers from all over the country under the banner of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) are also among the conveners.
With the formation of the alliance, relatives of victims share hope that justice will prevail.