Text By: Buena Bernal || Photo By: Elaine Tiu
MANILA, Philippines – Erlyn Umpal was the fiance of slain UNTV cameraman McGilbert Arriola, among those slaughtered in the Maguindanao massacre of November 23, 2009.
That day, dozens of armed men fired upon 58 civilians including 34 journalists who they brought near a mass grave in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, where the victims’ lifeless bodies were buried by a state-purchased backhoe like mere gravel.
It is one of the country’s bloodiest election-related incidents since the restoration of democracy and the single deadliest for members of the press, whose lives are put in peril day in and out for the work they do.
Erlyn and McGilbert were supposed to be married December that same year, a month after the unspeakable mass murder.
It was just fourteen days after Erlyn had given birth to their first baby when her fiance McGilbert was gunned down by men who somehow believed they could get away with a mass killing so gruesome that the on-site documentarists of its aftermath shed tears as their camera rolls.
Erlyn and McGilbert’s son would grow up not knowing his biological father.
In 2010, then Justice Secretary Alberto Agra cleared two members of the notorious Ampatuan clan of any wrongdoing in the treacherous slays – the first of many legal blows in the long, arduous battle for justice by victims and family members left behind like Erlyn.
Seven years after the massacre, the struggle continues.
(Below is an official update as of Nov. 23, 2016 from the Philippines’ Supreme Court on the cases in relation to the mass murder)