By Jhesset Thrina Enano
“… It was a devastation – which meant a home without a father who would bring ‘pasalubong’ in exchange for the kids’ warm hugs and kisses, a house without the kind and sweet voice of ‘nanay’ or corny jokes of ‘ates’ and ‘kuyas’…”
In a forum held at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (CMC) auditorium in the last November 18, a teary-eyed woman slowly read the contents of her speech to the students and members of the press in the crowded room. The forum was to commemorate the tragedy that took place on the 23rd of November last year.
Yet, for Maria Reynafe Momay-Castillo, her case is a completely different one.
A year has already passed since 58 people – 32 of them were members of the media – were brutally slaughtered in Sitio Masalay in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao. Dubbed as the worst politically-motivated massacre in Philippine history, it continues to haunt the families of the victims and other concerned individuals of the Maguindanao Massacre.
But when other families of the victims are mourning their own losses, Reynafe, a registered nurse, is still engaged in a fight – a struggle to find the body of her father which, until now, has yet to be found.
58, not 57 victims
Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay was a photojournalist for Midland Review, located in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat. He has been working in the service for ten years, and loved his job so much that even at 61 years of age, he did not stop working.
Momay was one of the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre, and even though a year has already passed, his body is still missing. In certain news reports, only 57 victims are recognized, which dismays Reynafe, Momay’s only daughter.
“I feel so bad because even if the remains of my father have not been found, he is still a victim and should be included in the total count of the victims,” she mentioned in an interview with Tinig ng Plaridel.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)—an international, independent and non-profit organization that aims to promote press freedom—also lists 57 people in its records of victims in the Maguindanao Massacre.
Even after a year, Reynafe is searching for the body of her father and to attain justice for him and the other victims of the gruesome massacre.
She recalls the last encounter that she has had with her father. It was during the street dance in celebration of the Kalimudan Festival in Sultan Kudarat, one day before the massacre.
“Lumapit siya sa akin. Hinanap niya ang mga apo niya, kissing my head so many times as if miss na miss na ako.” (“He approached me. He asked where his grandchildren were, while kissing my head so many times as if he misses me so much.”)
When asked what her father’s last words to her were, she replied, “Huwag mong pabayaan ang mga apo ko,” (“Take care of my grandchildren.”) referring to her two sons, aged 17 and 12 years old.
“I forgave them”
Reynafe, who currently resides in Isulan in Sultan Kudarat, claims that she has already forgiven the alleged perpetrators of the massacre, namely Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his two sons, Zaldy and Andal, Jr.
“I forgave them and that’s from the bottom of my heart. I’m giving it all to God – the God of all that is just,” she said.
On the same forum, Atty. Rico Ayson of Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said that the trial proper has not yet started. He said the court is still in the process of hearing the petition for bail.
Sec. Sonny Coloma, head of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) stated that the trial process may take 18 years – six years in the Regional Trial Court (RTC), another six years in the Court of Appeals and the final six years in the Supreme Court.
As for Reynafe, she still holds on to the hopes in finding the body of her father.
She states, “Let’s not forget what happened on November 23, 2009. I believe in due time God will bring justice to them. Forgiving them may be too hard for now for many, but in God’s perfect timing, all wounds will heal. God is the God that never sleeps. He saw our pains, our tears and He will give justice to our loved ones.”
“Let’s not let them die in vain… Let’s keep fighting.”