“Aquino told us during his campaign for presidency that he would resolve the case before he gets down. Now, he is ignoring us.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Erlyn Umpad’s son, Japhet, was only 13 days old when he lost his father, McDelbert Arriola.
On Nov. 23, 2009, Arriola, a cameraman at UNTV, was killed and buried in a shallow grave, along with 57 others, at sitio Masalay, barangay Salman, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao. The suspects are members of the powerful Ampatuan clan.
Six years after what is now known as the Ampatuan massacre, Umpad flew all the way from General Santos City to the nation’s capital. With other relatives of victims, Umpad marched toward the foot of Chino Roces (formerly Mendiola) bridge, just a few steps away from Malacanang.
“Aquino told us during his campaign for presidency that he would resolve the case before he gets down. Now, he is ignoring us,” Umpad told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
Six years into the trial, 75 of the more than a hundred suspects remain at large. Hearings are still at the gathering of evidence stage and bail proceedings. One of the primary suspects, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, was ordered released on March 9 after posting P11.6-milllion ($246,000) bail bond. Sixteen other accused police officers were also granted bail.
Sajid’s release from prison enraged Edith Tiamzon, wife of UNTV cameraman Daniel Tiamzon.
“He (Sajid) should have not been allowed to (post) bail. Now, he is even running for office. The Ampatuans are showing they can still act like kings in this country,” Tiamzon told Bulatlat.com.
Sajid, the youngest son of the late Andal Ampatuan Sr., is running for mayor of Shariff Aguak town, Maguindanao.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said, “[t]he Ampatuan Massacre may well be the symbol of Noynoy Aquino’s term, a rutted, crooked path strewn with broken promises and a trail of blood.”
For the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), the Aquino administration can still take measures in the next seven months to speed up the resolution of the case.
For one, FFFJ recommended filling the vacant positions for prosecutors in the prosecutorial system of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to help accelerate the pace of the trials not only of those accused of killing of journalists but also those of other victims.
FFFJ is a coalition of media organizations founded in 2003 to address the attacks and threats against of journalists in the Philippines. FFFJ has helped prosecute the killers and masterminds in the murder of journalists since 2003, including the Ampatuan Massacre.
Another recommendation is for the DOJ to address the causes of delays in the trials, including the Ampatuan Massacre trial, due to manipulative legal tactics, including a review of rules of court.
Some of the recommendations of the FFFJ were presented to Malacanang and DOJ as early as August 2010. These include organizing a quick response team of government officials, including media and NGO members to go anywhere a journalist is killed to establish the facts and to assure swift government action and sustained public attention; Reviving cold cases, which government agencies have been remiss in bringing suspects to trial; improving the forensic capacity of the police; and correcting the deficiencies of the Witness Protection Program.
A son’s wish
As the world observes how the Philippines would resolve one of the most violent attacks on journalists in recent history, a victim’s son wanted something concrete.
Before leaving for Manila, Umpad said her son asked her, “Are you attending another hearing, Mama? Will I get to see my Papa then?”
Japhet grew up seeing the videos and photographs of his father that Umpad have kept all these years.