A widow’s appeal

MARY GRACE MORALES lost two loved ones in the Maguindanao Massacre of Nov.23, 2009 — her husband Rosell, a reporter for News Focus, and her sister Marites Cablitas, a reporter of radio DxBX.

Grace and family members of the 32 media workers who died in the massacre are complainants in the multiple murder case now pending before a Quezon City trial court against members of the powerful Ampatuan clan.

Of the 196 suspects, only 95 are now in detention (of which only 76 had been arraigned), and over a hundred others remain at large.

Last week, Grace spoke in Bangkok before members of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

What follows are her words, and fervent appeal:

“I am Mary Grace Morales. A mother of three children aged 13, 11, and 8.

“On November 23, 2009, I lost my husband Rosell. My children lost, at their very young age, their loving and responsible father. I also lost my sister Marites Cablitas.

“My sister and my husband were among the 58 persons killed in the Ampatuan Massacre. They were among the 32 journalists who were covering the filing of candidacy of a political leader in the area named Esmael Mangudadatu. On the way to the Election Commission office, they were stopped by more than a hundred armed men and taken to a hill where two pits had already been dug using a backhoe.

“All 58 persons in the convoy were brutally murdered. Some of the bodies were buried in the pits, together with three of the eight vehicles they rode.

“When I heard about the massacre aired on different radio stations, at first I could not believe it was true. I took my children with me to the house of my sister because I did not want them to know what had happened.

“The massacre has caused excruciating pain and dilemma. At first, I was in denial. I could not accept what had happened. Losing two persons close to me in that massacre is really hard.

“But I knew I had to be strong and keep my wits intact — to be able to take care of my family, as well as to fight whoever was behind the brutal massacre.

“Many of the families of the victims find it difficult to sustain any kind of livelihood. Most of those who died were breadwinners, and those they left behind are ordinary housewives with no work experience. One is a 67-year-old grandmother who suddenly found herself saddled with six grandchildren to feed. Another is a young wife who was six months pregnant at the time of the massacre and who is, until now, afraid of what will happen to the future of her three children. There are so many children still struggling to live after the loss of their parents.

“Together with the other victims’ families, we filed a case against the perpetrators of this brutal and barbaric act. We want those responsible to pay for their crime.

“I cannot understand, however, why, until now, the masterminds have not yet been convicted, almost three years after the incident. In fact, most of them have not even been arraigned yet. Almost half of the 196 accused have not been arrested.

“While it appears that the Philippine government is trying to help us reach a speedy solution of the case, I still feel extremely frustrated. Just recently, the Supreme Court reversed its decision and disallowed the live media coverage of the trial.

“Our enemy is very powerful. Many members of their clan continue to hold government positions. We, the families of the victims, are nobodies against the powerful Ampatuans.

“We do not have the resources to fight them. Every legal move entails money. And campaigning to keep public awareness of the issue high also entails expenses. We are grateful for the assistance that we have received from groups like the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists and the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines.

“By bringing the issue to you, the international community, we are hoping that you can help us find justice. We believe that the international media community can help by taking a more comprehensive action and continue to give strength to the families of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre, of other extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.

“November 23 is the International Day to End Impunity. I come to you with a plea from my heart, bringing to you the cries of our children on the sudden loss of their loved ones, our loved ones, who had bright plans for the future but were curtailed by the bullets of the Ampatuans.

“We cry for justice. Your support gives us hope. Your prayers keep us strong.” — PCIJ, November 2012