The widows of media victims in the Ampatuan Massacre of Nov. 23 trooped to the Office of the Ombudsman Mindanao Tuesday to file charges against two top officers of the Philippine Army.
They were accompanied by lawyer, Harry Roque, who told reporters that the two officers “could have prevented” the massacre had they sent soldiers to escort the convoys led by the wife of Buluan town Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto" Mangudadatu.
Mangudadatu sent his wife, sisters and lawyers, accompanied by 32 media workers, to go tot he provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, to file his certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao.
The convoy was stopped along the highway in Ampatuan town by about a hundred men reportedly led by Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr.
Named as respondents in the complaints are Maj. Gen. Alfredo Cayton Jr., former commanding general of the Cotabato-based 6th Infantry Division, and Col. Menardo Geslani, former commanding general of the Army 601st Infantry Brigade.
Both officers have been relieved following the massacre in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao last Nov. 23 but an investigation conducted by the Philippine Army cleared both of the officers.
Cayton and Geslani reasoned that there was a lack of available soldiers since an Army battalion had been sent home to Samar a day prior to the incident.
But the widows, in their affidavits, did not believe both officers.
“Both Cayton’s and Geslani’s declaration that there were no direct threats from the ground prompted the journalists to proceed with the coverage of the Magundadatu women’s filing of COC,” they said
Joseph Jubelag of the Manila Standard who at the last moment decided not to go with the convoy on November 23, told reporters that several journalists called up Cayton asking for security update but Cayton assured them that it was safe to go to Shariff Aguak town.
“How can they be not guilty? Cayton and Geslani had information that the highway was filled with militiamen loyal to the Ampatuans,” Roque said.
Those who filed cases before the Ombudsman were widows and relatives of 13 of the 32 slain media workers are Reynafe Momay-Castillo for Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay, photographer of Midland Review in Tacurong whose remains have yet to be accounted for; Zenaida Duhay for Jhoy of GoldStar Daily in Tacurong; Juliet Evardo for Jolito Evardo of UNTV General Santos; Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian for Gatchalian Santos of DXGO in Davao City; Glenna Legarta for Bienvenido Legarta Jr., of Prontiera News in Koronadal City; Arlyn Lupogan for Lindo Lupogan of Mindanao Daily Gazette in Davao City; Mary Jean Merisco for Rey Merisco of Periodico Ini in Koronadal City; Catherine Nunez for Victor Nunez of UNTV in General Santos City; Noemi Parcon for Joel Parcon, Prontiera News in Korondal City; Myrna Reblando for Alejandro "Bong" Rebland, Manila Bulletin reporter based in General Santos City; Ramonita Salaysay for Napoleon Salaysay of Mindanao Gazette, Cotabato City; Editha Tiamzon for Daniel Tiamzon of UNTV in General Santos CIty; and Erlyn Umpad, partner of McDelbert Arriola of UNTV. Umpad and Arriola have a baby and were supposed to have gotten married in December.
Complaints against the military are usually filed before the Office of the Deputy Ombudsman for the Military and other Law Enforcement Offices which has no office in Mindanao but in Quezon City. mindanews.com