Massacre victim’s widow flees Philippines
The widow of a journalist who was among the 57 people killed in the grisly 2009 Maguindanao massacre has fled to Hong Kong, saying the Philippine government had failed to provide her protection.
Speaking before journalists in Hong Kong more than a week ago, Myrna Reblando recounted her travails as the widow of slain Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, and her futile, “costly” search for justice.
“For over a year, I was in hiding. In this period, my life was empty. I felt that my person is useless and that I only think of securing myself. I felt that those who had threatened me had achieved what they wanted: to silence me, to push me back. I know that I could do something,” Reblando said.
But then she faced the dilemma: to speak or not to speak, she said.
“I am ready to die; however, I cannot put the life of my children at risk. I am their mother. I should be the one protecting them; I should be the one giving them protection. They have only me now; but I am not even with them now as we speak,” she said in her speech.
The Asian Human Rights Commission e-mailed to the press the full text of Reblando’s speech, which she delivered on June 25 before the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), on “How the Prevention of Torture Promotes the Freedom of Expression and Journalism in Asia.”
Bong Reblando was among 32 journalists murdered during the Nov. 23, 2009, massacre in Maguindanao province.
Reblando said she first flew to Hong Kong two years ago to speak before the FCC and receive the posthumous Human Rights Press Award for the murdered journalists.
“Before, I could speak freely and I thought I had freedom and protection. But now I am a person who is being hunted for what I have spoken (about) and without protection even from my own government. Yes. I decided to leave my country because persons seeking remedies and redress in our system of justice, like me and many countless others, had no protection,” she said.
Reblando expressed gratitude to the Hong Kong government for giving her “protection, food and shelter.”
“Thank God, now I am here alive. However, I could hardly imagine on how many occasions I was close to death in the last two years. I did not feel protected, even with my own security escorts,” she said.
The widow said her pursuit of justice had been costly for her and her family. “I lost my livelihood, I cannot go home and the people whom I know could not provide me shelter when I needed it the most. They fear getting involved, even my own relatives and friends.”
When she took on the role of vice chair and spokesperson of the Justice Now! Movement, composed of the families of the massacre victims, Reblando said she knew it was a “tough job.”
“To speak on behalf of those who are frightened and those who could not—because of oppression, fear and absence of protection—is a position that is alarming and dangerous,” she said.
“For those who choose to take this role in my country, most of them are all dead now; others are struggling to stay alive. One of those dead is Jessie Upham, one of the witnesses of the Maguindanao massacre. He was murdered before he could testify in court,” she said.
On Wednesday, the son of Alijol Ampatuan, denied that his father, who was killed in February, had planned to turn state witness.
“It was true that my father was shot dead but it was not because he wanted to testify,” said Alijol Ampatuan Jr. who claimed to be a distant relative of former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., the principal accused in the massacre.
However, he could not explain why his father was killed.
At the continuation Wednesday of the massacre trial at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, Lakmodin Saliao, who claimed to be a former aide of Andal Sr., returned to the witness stand and identified Anwar Ampatuan, a son of the former governor, and Akmad Ampatuan, a son-in-law, among a dozen accused present in court.
The witness claimed it was Anwar, who hid his brother and primary suspect Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. in the mountains of Datu Hofer town in Maguindanao hours after the killings.
Saliao reiterated the previous testimony he gave in September 2010 that he was with Andal Sr. on the day of the massacre. He said he was in constant contact with Anwar especially after Andal Sr. talked to Anwar through his cellular phone and told him to meet Unsay and flee from the massacre site.
Saliao also affirmed his previous testimony that he was present when the Ampatuans and their supporters allegedly met on the night of Nov. 17 at the clan’s farm in Barangay Bagong, Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, to plan the massacre.
“That is why we’re all here—to plan how to stop Toto Mangudadatu from filing his CoC (certificate of candidacy),” Saliao had quoted the clan patriarch as saying.
‘Kill them all’
It was then that Andal Jr. supposedly replied: “That is easy, father. Kill them all if they come here.”
Saliao said former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan then told those present that “if that is what we’re talking about, we should plan it carefully so that we won’t be found out.”
“That is why we are here. It is shameful for the Ampatuan clan to have someone challenge them,” Anwar allegedly said.
Akmad then allegedly said: “We will listen to father. It is OK with us if all of them are killed.”
Mangudadatu did not join his wife, other relatives, supporters and journalists who were killed while on the way to file his candidacy. He is now the Maguindanao governor. With reports from Philip C. Tubeza and Inquirer Mindanao
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