I find it difficult to write an apt description for this album, I suppose because there simply is none. Let me just tell you how we got there.

We were driving from Cotabato City to Davao, and the road we took, the Isulan-Shariff Aguak Road, would take us through Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, site of the infamous Maguindanao Massacre where fifty-eight people lost their lives.

Kuyang Cosain “Jun” Naga, Jr. was at the wheel, with Jolly Lais, OIC of the ARMM Manila Liaison Office riding shotgun. Kuyang Jun’s assistant Sukarno was in back, with Cris, my brother-in-law Rowley, and myself.

Kuyang Jun mentioned that he had never been to the site, while Jolly said he had been there only once. None of us passengers had seen the site as well, and we decided to take the detour. We were still in a jovial mood at the time; Rowley hinted that he didn’t want to go and we kidded him saying we’d let him out at the corner and he can just wait for us to come back.

We almost missed the right turn, and there was an active corn thresher blocking the road. Kuyang Jun politely asked the workers to make way for the vehicle. We thought it would be just a short way in, perhaps a kilometer or so, to where more than a hundred men stopped and forced a convoy of six vehicles, carrying fifty-eight people, to detour to their deaths.

But it was farther than that, perhaps three kilometers or more, into that final spot that made the word “backhoe” one of the most evil words in Philippine history. It was so far in that one could almost believe that no one heard anything. There were no residences, huts or planted ground except near the highway. There was that road that led to nowhere, a clear indication that this detour to death had been planned months beforehand.

A memorial has been built at the end of that road. In that spot where the mutilated bodies and crushed vehicles were found, a concrete slab stands where the names of the fifty-eight victims are inscribed, and there are markers on the ground where they fell.

The mountains and hills surrounding this spot will forever be haunted by their souls. I didn’t feel it until I had taken all the pictures I could manage. Looking at them now, and sharing them with you, it is impossible not to imagine how it might have been for the fifty-eight, driving to the deadest of ends.

No matter how quiet the surrounding hills may seem and how pure the memorial stands, I could not help but wonder how such a massacre could have been planned with the coldest of hearts, and how true peace can never be attained until justice has been served.

Ampatuan, Maguindanao

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