Philippine massacre widows 'cannot forgive' warlord suspect

Philippine massacre widows 'cannot forgive' warlord suspect
Former Governor of the Philippine province of Maguindanao Andal Ampatuan Senior (C) and four members of the Ampatuan clan are escorted by policemen as they arrive at the Villamor Airbase in Manila.

Widows of victims of the Philippines' worst political massacre said Saturday that they could not forgive a powerful clan warlord who was one of the main suspects in the case, after he died in hospital.

Andal Ampatuan Sr., patriarch of the powerful Ampatuan clan, was among 100 people on trial for the killings of 58 people, including 32 journalists, in the conflict-wracked southern province of Maguindanao in November 2009.

He died at a government hospital in suburban Manila late Friday evening, days after he slipped into a coma following a heart attack, his lawyers said.

"I could not forgive him because he has shown no remorse, and the fact that the case has dragged adds to our pain," said Gloria Teodoro, whose newspaper reporter husband died in the carnage.

"When I saw news of his death today, it was mixed emotions. I was happy that he's dead, but sad because we have not gotten justice," the 46-year-old widow told AFP.

The brutal massacre, one of the world's deadliest attacks against media workers, saw some shot in their genitals before they were buried in a hilltop grave using an excavator.

The brazenness of the murders shocked the world and reinforced perceptions of a culture of impunity in the Philippines, where the powerful believe they can commit serious crimes and escape unpunished.

The trial has moved excruciatingly slowly, with reports of bribery and potential witnesses being killed or threatened.

Many of the victims' widows have been left struggling, their children forced to drop out of school due to poverty.

Merly Perante, who lost her husband, also a journalist, in the massacre said she did not know how the case would proceed after the Ampatuan patriarch's death.

"I cannot accept that he died due to sickness, that he died before he can be convicted. He should have paid for his sins in jail," the 41-year-old told AFP.

"It is very difficult to forgive him. I leave it to the Lord to judge him." Ampatuan ruled Maguindanao as governor for a decade with a private army tolerated by then-president Gloria Arroyo, who used his forces as a buffer against Muslim insurgents.

His death extinguished his criminal liability in the case, according to his lawyer, Ferdinand Topacio.

"Money talks and money walks in our case," Teodoro said, as she dared President Benigno Aquino to fulfil his promise of concluding the massacre trial before he steps down in June next year.

"I want to hear him say it, that he will help us find justice," she said, referring to the president's annual address to parliament later this month.

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