On November 23, 2009, a convoy of journalists and members of the Mangudadatu clan were on their way to file the certificate of candidacy of aspiring Maguindanao governor Toto Mangudadatu. But they never made it to their destination. Their bodies were found riddled with bullets; many of them buried in mass graves. 58 people were killed in this massacre—the deadliest attack on Filipino journalists and the worst case of electoral violence in the country—all because the ruthless Ampatuan clan wanted to hold on to their power.
It's been 12 years since the Maguindanao massacre and for over a decade now, journalists and the families of the brutally slain have been working to make sure that the horrors of November 23, 2009 are not forgotten. But why is it important to remember? And what happens if we forget?
For years, the Ampatuans had gotten away with all kinds of atrocities. Not just land-grabbing and corruption, but even abductions, torture, sexual assault, bombings, and murder by chainsaw. But their crime on November 23, 2009 was just too gruesome to be covered up. Now they had to deal with something they weren't used to—being held accountable.
There's more than one Cynthia in the tragic and infuriating tale of the Maguindanao massacre. And the other Cynthia was there from the time the crime was planned to the time the perpetrators were trying to cover it up.
When armed men stopped the convoy of journalists and members of the Mangudadatu clan, they stripped their captives of their belongings. But lawyer Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon managed to hold on to her phone. It would be her lifeline—or so she thought.