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Justice delayed but hopes remain

They wept in disgust and they die a little each day that justice is delayed. But relatives of a mass killing in the southern part of the Philippines are not giving up.

Hope remains because it’s the one thing that keeps them going.

They are relatives of victims of a bloody massacre that happened on 23 November 2009 in Maguindanao, in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.

Fifty seven people, mostly journalists, breathed their last somewhere between the heart of darkness and the long road to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao in the worst incidence of political violence in recent years.

In broad daylight, under a blue sky and a scorching crimson sun, the victims were brutally murdered. They must have screamed and begged for their lives to their last breath but the sounds of bullets drowned out their cries of mercy.

The main suspect in the case is Andal Ampatuan Jr, the municipal mayor, who, according to authorities and witnesses, led the mass killings of 57 members of a convoy of a rival clan. The convoy consisted of family members, supports and journalists. Of the 57 victims, 32 were members of the media.

The rival clan is the Mangudadatu family, members of which were on their way to a provincial election office in the province to file the certificate of candidacy of Ismael Mangudadatu, a gubernatorial candidate for Maguindanao in the national elections held last May.

Last week, the local courts granted the motion of the defense panel to delay the long-awaited trial of Ampatuan and his cohorts. The trial has been reset to 8 September to the dismay of the relatives of the victims.

One of the relatives, Catherine Nunez, whose son was among the journalists killed in the massacre, told local media that she had flown all the way from the southern province of Misamis Oriental to attend the proceedings in Quezon City, in the national capital region some two hours away by plane.

‘Every day that passes, the victims’ families die a little until the day this case moves forward,’ Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon said in his statement to local courts last September.

Since the carnage happened in November last year, families of the victims, media organizations, human rights groups and government prosecutors have been busy bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Every month, media organizations hold protest activities to show authorities that the incident has not been forgotten.

Justice Secretary Lilia de Lima, former chairman of the Commission on Human Rights and a known human rights advocate, said she would work to ensure that there would be no additional delays.

“We cannot allow further delays,” she said.

In the Philippines, the slow pace of justice has often left many relatives of hapless victims frustrated. But the victims of the Ampatuan clan are keeping their fingers crossed. They vowed to continue fighting for justice.

A private lawyer of the victims, Nena Santos told local media that they would file a petition with the higher court to have the trial expedited. She said the victims would not back out in their quest for justice.

Indeed, hope remains in their weary souls even in an uphill battle that involves a hotshot defense lawyer and a powerful political clan.

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