The town is called Ampatuan, Maguindanao. In that town, on November 23, 2009, 58 innocent civilians, journalists, lawyers, aides, supporters, and motorists were unceremoniously buried in mass graves after being murdered, massacred, and mutilated by gun-toting animals. Two years later, justice remains elusive, slow, delayed… and perhaps even denied.
We remember not because of the gruesome details or that because it can happen to us. We remember because it is right and proper and bold for us to remember. We remember because two years later, no one has paid the price. We remember because of so many people fighting for justice in a world filled with news items covering murdered celebrities and murdered innuendoes. We remember because as far as the pursuit of justice is concerned, we have yet to be there.
Before all of this is forgotten let it be known that Ampatuan Massacre is the most cruel and poignant example of the many unresolved killings of civilians, government officials, activists, and journalists in the Philippines. It’s a very gruesome tale that would find a special place in our history books, but what makes it more grotesque is the pace of the trial. If justice represents our freedom from impunity then its pace and delivery must be swift and purposeful: every day that passes where we do not reach a definite resolution to the Ampatuan Massacre is a step that the killers and perpetrators take to get away with their crimes. Not only against journalists and the innocent victims of that most gruesome and grotesque crime, but it is a crime against a society in dire need of justice and closure.
Before all of this is forgotten, let it be known that the pace of the trial speaks a lot about the quality of justice in this country. Something so cruel and vile and sadistic – this butchery of living human beings – takes so much time to be resolved in a court of law. An assault on essential freedom granted in a democratic state – suffrage and free expression – is terminated and censored by the barrel of a gun should be treated as a lifelong insult not only by citizens, but by the government that’s supposed to stand for it. Lest we forget, the Ampatuan Massacre should reverberate in us as the extreme example of impunity many of us encounter on a daily basis: powerful acts that impinge upon our lives and freedoms just because the powerful can do so.
Before all of this is forgotten we must remember that we, as a nation, have come to that point where extrajudicial killings become a norm, a fact of life, and secondary to celebrity gossip and the latest hashtags on Twitter. The massive scale of the events of November 23, 2009 were enough to shake us to the very marrow of our bones, that such a crime can be within the capabilities of human beings. We should not forget that, and the reason for that: that some people are willing to stifle the freedoms we enjoy at any cost.
Before all of this is forgotten we must remember that today, only 93 of the 196 accused of the crime have been arrested, only two Ampatuans have been arraigned. To add to that scale, Joker Arroyo once remarked that this case may take 200 years to be presented and resolved. All the more we need to do it now, as swift as humanly possible. If not for the memory of the dead, we must do so in deference and with respect to the living: most of them children. It’s not because it’s publicized or it’s beneficial for publicity, but because it’s time for justice to be served.
Before all of this is forgotten we might think that this is a simple case of sending the perpetrators to jail, or that Blog Action Day is a simple case in remembering. Yet the reason why – two years later – this case hasn’t been solved isn’t simple at all. It is a complicated machine of impunity, of the delaying of justice, of the denial of justice. When something like the Ampatuan Massacre happens – and when something like the very slow pace of justice is allowed to happen – we inflict and infect wounds upon the body of society that takes more than blog posts to recover. In the end it’s the sutures of vigilance – not the scabs of time – that heals the wound, that gives it closure. And that’s what we demand today: justice.
When a murder – a massacre – of the sort that took place in Ampatuan, Maguindanao 2 years ago happens, we do not forget. We remain vigilant because it is just, and we pursue justice because it is right.
Isabel Allende once wrote, “What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.” That’s exactly what happened two years ago: abuse with murder, mutilation, punctuated by empty ammo shells and backhoes. That’s exactly what’s happening two years later, in the midst of an excruciatingly slow pace of the Ampatuan Massacre trial. Time, when used to delay justice, is the accomplice of impunity: we may forget. No crime is worse than that.