Prayers, offering of flowers, lighting of candles, and demonstrations in remembering the 57 victims of Maguindanao massacre were held Tuesday in the remote town of Ampatuan to mark the first anniversary of the carnage.
A huge crowd, including local journalists from the different regions and foreign countries as well as multi-sectoral group leaders and non governmental organizations, gathered in a remote hill at Barangay Salman, where the slaughter occured Nov. 23, 2009.
Tuesday's ceremony in Ampatuan town began at 8:00 a.m., the country’s worst political massacre that shocked the world and gained media international and United Nation attention.
Military and police security forces backed by combat vehicles along the road towards the hilly site, where the massacre took place, had a very sizable size presence to secure the area.
The families and relatives of massacre victims led by Maguindanao Governor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, whose wife Jenalyn was among those killed in the slaughter, called for a speedy prosecution of the accused.
"A year has passed but justice still remains unserved. I have mixed emotions as I stand before you today. I wish I could tell you that after one year, the case is about to be concluded," Mangudadatu said in a prepared statement.
The Ampatuans, their conspirators and accomplices shall in no time be convicted. However, that is not the case here. It pains me to think that despite the evidence presented by the prosecution, the major suspects in the case are yet to be arraigned."
Considering that the number of victims involved in the masssacre, Mangudadatu said its negative impact to the country and the media attention it received internationally as well as the slow progress of the case is to say disappointing.
Despite having been put behind bars, the Ampatuans remain influential through their allies who are powered by their ill-gotten wealth and weapons, according to Mangudadatu.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, who was present at the commemoration, vowed to focus her attention on the prosecution of those implicated in the massacre.
Reading the statement of President Benigno Aquino III, De Lima says: "Today the wheels of justice grind on. 57 cases are pending before the Regional Trial Court 221 of Quezon City. 49 of the 196 accused in the case have been arraigned and 81 have been arrested. One alleged victim remains missing. His body was never found."
The President's statement furthers, "The resolution of these cases has become the litmus test of our justice system. It in one of the top priorities of the Justice Department. We will not rest until justice has been served. Today we agai offer our condolences to the families of the victims and vow to do everything in our power to achieve a timely resolution of this case and esnure that this does not happen again."
Relatives of the victims also made emotional appeals for justice.
Journalists placed flowers and lit candles on the area, where many of the media colleagues were dugged up. They also released white doves and white baloons in memory of the victims.
A foreign journalist Deborah Muir, who is senior member of the Australia-based International Federation of Journalists, called for a speedy and comprehensive justice for all the Maguindanao massacre victims.
Meanwhile, Governor Mangudadatu asked the people to be cautious against the influences of the Ampatuans.
"Let us be vigilant so that we may restore not only peace and order in the province of Maguindanao but also the wealth ill gotten by them from the people. We should remain hopeful despite the slow progress of the case. Let us pray that justice shall be served in an inexpensive and expeditious manner. Let us pray that such event, one of the darkest moments in 21st century will never be repeated."
The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center, Inc. also issued statament wishing to express its solidarity with the families of the victims and support for their unwavering determination to seek justice.
"The quest for justice and peace must continue...justice is sought. Justice must be delivered. No ifs,not buts...our calls for justice for the victims of the November 23 massacre is ther same call we make for ALL victims of human rights violations throughout the conflict affected areas of Mindanao," the statement said.
Let our commemoration of the martyrdom of the November 23 victims be a moment for all of us to: reflect of the nexus between the conflict and human rights violations; strengthen our resolve to seek a just and negotiated end to the conflict; and strengthen our commitment to pursue justice for all victims of human rights violations. No peace without human rights. No human rights without peace."