A cry for justice from the grave

[For ' A cry for justice from the grave' story] Armoured vehicles used in the Ampatuan massacre sit alongside crumpled vehicles of the victims at the so-called 'evidence site' of the  in regional police headquarters in General Santos city, Mindanao. The photo was taken on November 2, 2014.[For ' A cry for justice from the grave' story] Armoured vehicles used in the Ampatuan massacre sit alongside crumpled vehicles of the victims at the so-called 'evidence site' of the  in regional police headquarters in General Santos city, Mindanao. The photo was taken on November 2, 2014.
[For ' A cry for justice from the grave' story] Armoured vehicles used in the Ampatuan massacre sit alongside crumpled vehicles of the victims at the so-called 'evidence site' of the  in regional police headquarters in General Santos city, Mindanao. The photo was taken on November 2, 2014.
 

[This is a sidebar story to ‘Witness Protection Key to Fighting Impunity‘ also by Kyaw Ye Lynn]

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Their spirits are crying out for justice.

“I hear crying, shouting and moaning at night especially during the month of November,” said a police officer stationed at the police headquarters in Tambler in General Santos city in the southern Philippines.

November 23 last year, in particular, was unforgettable for him and a few security guards who were kept awake by loud moaning and the sound of running engines.

“Noisy engine sounds and moaning started at around midnight so we went to check, and the sound got louder as we reached the site but there was no one there,” the officer said. “It gives me goose pimples just thinking about it now.”

The site is a yard just behind his office where vehicles involved in the slaughter of 58 people in Maguindanao province on November 23, 2009 are being kept as evidence in the gruesome killings that sparked outrage at home and outside the country. Thirty-two of the casualties were journalists and media workers.

Five years on, nobody has been convicted in what is now called the Maguindanao massacre that even the spirits of the victims are crying out for justice.

Filipinos generally believe that people who meet untimely and violent death, especially those who are murdered, come back as spirits and will not rest until their deaths are given justice.

The yard that is keeping the evidence looks neglected. Situated near a main gate of the police compound and enclosed by metal wires, it has no roof to protect the evidence from all the elements. It holds four military-type vehicles, three crumpled private vans and two heavy trucks with earth-moving equipment – all mute witnesses to the brutal killings five years ago.

One of the vans crushed almost beyond recognition bears the name of a media organization.

The military-type vehicles are coated with green and black paint, and bear the letters PNP (Philippine National Police) on one side and Pulisya (police) on the back. They are said to have carried gunmen who stopped the convoy of 58 people on their way to the provincial capital to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice-mayor Esmael ‘Toto’ Mangudadatu as governor in the 2010 elections.

The 58 were abducted, shot and buried in mass graves on a grassy hilltop in Masalay in the outskirts of Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

A backhoe that is believed to have dug the holes and later used to excavate the bodies of the victims is also being kept in the yard in the police compound in Tambler.

At the massacre site, some 114 km from General Santos, wooden markers bearing the names of all 58 victims are stark reminders of the carnage that is commemorated every year since 2010 by journalist organizations, and press freedom advocacy groups.

Prayers, candle-lighting ceremonies and other activities take place around the country November 23rd each year to demand justice and an end to the impunity in the killing of journalists.

“We don’t know why no one responsible for the killing is behind bars yet, said Merly C. Perante, wife of slain journalist Ronnie Perante.

“We want to see them getting jail sentences for what they had done to our loved ones,” she told a group of reporters at a memorial park in General Santos last November 2, All Souls’ Day.

The trial of the perpetrators of the heinous crime is ongoing. President Benigno Aquino has vowed justice for the victims and their families.

“We hope, we actually hope the Aquino government would solve the massacre, said Perante. “But nothing has happened yet. It has been five years.”

[This article was produced for the 2014 Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) fellowship program. Kyaw Ye Lynn is a Burmese Journalist, working as desk editor for Popular Myanmar News Journal Burma, is one of the 2014 fellows. This year’s theme is Promoting a regional understanding of impunity in journalists killing in the Philippines.]

Click this photo to see all of Kyaw Ye Lynn’s photos for the 2014 SEAPA Fellowship.

Kyaw Ye Lynn's Photos, SEAPA Fellowship 2014