November 23, 2022

Access to the site of the Ampatuan massacre is restricted but will open from November 19 to 23 for the 12th anniversary commemoration

A military outpost was set up in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao to restrict unauthorized entry to the site of the Sitio Masalay massacre. MindaNews photo by BONG S. SARMIENTO

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / Nov 16) – Restricted access to the site of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao province, where 58 people were brutally killed in 2009, including 32 media professionals, will be facilitated for the commemoration of the 12th anniversary of the infamous manslaughter. on November 23, said a local official.

Bai Najma Hassana Biruar, president of Barangay Salman in the city of Ampatuan, said the Municipal Council for Peace and Order (MPOC) decided to open the site of the Sitio Masalay massacre to visitors from 19 to 23. November.

“Pwede na po umakyat sa site, sundin lang po natin ang health and safety protocols. Face mask Mag to the newspaper mag-log lang po bago pumasok, ”she told MindaNews in a text message late Monday afternoon.

According to her, visiting hours at the massacre site would be “9 am to 4 pm”, as decided at the MPOC meeting, which was attended by local government officials and police and military officers.

Before heading to the site of the massacre, Biruar said visitors can register at an outpost that will be set up along the road, which will be run by a Barangay Peace Action Team.

Last week, MindaNews attempted to enter the site of the massacre, but was prevented from proceeding by soldiers belonging to the 63rd Mechanized Infantry Company (Sanggalang) of the 6th Armored Division of the Mechanized Infantry Battalion (Salaknib ) (Pambato) of the Philippine Army.

Local authorities established a forward command post where a barricade of poles was erected to restrict entry to the site of the massacre

The troops in the post advised MindaNews to seek permission from the barangay government first.

Biruar then asked MindaNews to give them a few days’ notice before surrendering so that the troops could clear the area.

“We closed the massacre site to these people without notice due to security concerns,” she said.

The site of the massacre has been restricted to visitors in recent months due to sightings and harassment of gunmen allegedly belonging to Dawla Islamiya, an Islamic State-inspired terrorist group.

In addition to the army’s forward command post, another detachment was deployed on the outskirts of the site of the massacre.

Much like last year, families of media victims will not be visiting the site of the massacre this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It was their tradition to visit the site of the massacre a few days before the anniversary of the massacre to pay homage to their loved ones.

In a statement signed by Emily Lopez and Grace Morales, respectively president and general secretary of the Justice Now movement, said they had agreed not to hold the commemoration at the site of the massacre this year due to the pandemic.

The Justice Now movement is the association of the families of media workers killed in the Ampatuan massacre.

The 12th anniversary commemoration will take place in General Santos City on November 20 in partnership with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Coalition, Lopez and Morales said.

The duo criticized people who presented themselves as media men and allegedly asked for money to support the commemoration activity this year.

“We didn’t allow anyone to do this,” they said in Filipino.

The Ampatuan massacre has been touted as the worst election-related violence in the Philippines and the deadliest attack on the workers’ press in the world.

Several members of the Ampatuan clan have been accused of organizing the bloody massacre. These included the patriarch of the clan, the former governor of Maguindanao, Andal Ampatuan Sr., who died in captivity in 2015 due to illness; and siblings Zaldy Ampatuan, former governor of the late Muslim Mindanao Autonomous Region; Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of the town of Datu Unsay; and Anwar Ampatuan, former mayor of the city of Shariff Aguak.

Subsequently, Buluan’s vice-mayor, Esmael Mangudadatu, sent his wife Bai Genalin Mangudadatu to submit her certificate of candidacy for governor, calling into question the reign of the Ampatuans. His convoy, which included media workers who were there to cover the event, was reported and taken to Sitio Masalay where they were brutally killed. Several civilians who were there at the wrong time were among those massacred. The perpetrators attempted to cover up the grisly crime by burying the victims in freshly dug graves, which were uncovered during an aerial inspection of the area.

On the 11th anniversary of the Ampatuan massacre last year, Mangudadatu and his supporters held an activity at the site of the massacre to pay tribute to the victims.

For this year, he said in a text message that they will also be holding a commemoration activity at the site of the massacre on November 23.

In December 2019, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Section 221 of the Quezon City Regional Magistrates’ Court found some of the Ampatuans defendants and several others guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the 2009 massacre.

Reyes ordered Andal Jr., Zaldy and Anwar and 25 other directors who were convicted to pay the heirs of 57 victims a total of 155.5 million pesos in civil compensation; moral, exemplary, moderate and real damages; and loss of earning capacity.

The Ampatuans had appealed the court’s verdict. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)