MANILA, Philippines – After more than a decade since the 2009 massacre that saw 58 dead, including 32 journalists, youth groups hailed the guilty verdict handed down on the Ampatuan brothers on Thursday, December 19.
Ampatuan brothers Datu Andal Jr and Zaldy were convicted of 57 counts of murder. They were sentenced, along with 26 other people, to reclusion perpetua without parole by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 under Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes.
Since 2009, families and groups have been pursuing justice for their slain relatives and colleagues, condemning delays that have pushed the trial to take a decade. (READ: Children bear the brunt 10 years since Ampatuan massacre)
The College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) commended how the long-awaited verdict helps set the tone in countering the "worsening culture of impunity in the country."
"Today we are a step ahead in our fight against impunity.... May the verdict send a message to everyone that the oppressed can fight, stand, and triumph against those who abuse their powers," said CEGP national president Daryl Angelo Baybado.
The CEGP added that the conviction of the Ampatuan massacre perpetrators is an example of how the Filipino people will "fight for justice for all state-perpetrated violence."
The Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Pamantasan ng Ateneo de Davao (ADDU Samahan), the university's student council, emphasized that the verdict will be remembered by Filipinos, especially Mindanaoans, as the "day of triumphed justice."
"May the Philippine justice system see light in this development and continue to serve fairly and justly," they said.
ADDU Samahan also called for continued vigilance, including among the youth, in preventing violence and terrorism.
"We say no more to a culture of impunity, violence, abuse, and terror in Mindanao especially in the Bangsamoro. Mindanao will no longer be remembered as a place of terror and massacres but a place where justice prevailed. Mindanao will be remembered differently," they added.
The University of the Philippines Diliman College of Mass Communication Student Council echoed ADDU Samahan, saying everyone should remain vigilant.
They added that they're hopeful the Ampatuan massacre case will set the precedent for "finally serving justice for every account of human rights violations in the country."
"The justice that has been served is a partial victory for the victims and their families. However, the struggle goes on so long as there are still perpetrators who are not behind bars. The call to defend press freedom continues as long as there are those who are still able to evade the rule of law," they said.
The promulgation of the decision is the culmination of a trial that took 10 years – stemming from November 23, 2009, when armed men intercepted a convoy of journalists, media workers, lawyers, and relatives of Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for Maguindanao governor.
The massacre is regarded as the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines and the single deadliest attack on journalists in the world. (READ: TIMELINE: The long road to justice for Ampatuan massacre victims) – Rappler.com
Samantha Bagayas is a community and civic engagement specialist under MovePH, Rappler's civic engagement arm. Aside from writing stories about movements and civic initiatives, she works with movers and campus journalists across the Philippines to amplify issues affecting their communities.