THE Quezon City Regional Trial Court on Thursday, December 19, has found members of the Ampatuan family of Maguindanao, together with several others, guilty for the murder of 57 people in the Maguindanao massacre.
Former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brothers former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Datu Zaldy “Puti” U. Ampatuan and Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr. were sentenced to life imprisonment without parole for slaughtering 57 people who joined the convoy of a rival politician, Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. The victims were then brought to the village of Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town where they were shot to death and buried in a shallow grave.
“The court finds that the prosecution has proven beyond reasonable doubt that the killing of the 57 victims were planned prior to Nov. 23, 2009,” said Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court in her 700-page decision read in court.
“Both direct and corroborative evidence point toward this conclusion,” she added.
Other convicted members of the Ampatuan clan include Datu Anwar Sajid “Ulo” and Datu Anwar “Ipi,” Jr., along with Mohades and Misuari Ampatuan. Along with them are 23 other people, all meted with the penalty of reclusion perpetua.
Meanwhile, 15 others, most of which are policemen, were sentenced to six to 10 years in jail for being accessories to the crime.
Another Ampatuan brother, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, as well as 56 others, were acquitted on grounds of reasonable doubt.
The convicted were ordered to pay the families of the 57 victims P100,000 in civil indemnity and P100,000 in moral damages; and 560,000 to over P23 million to the heirs for loss of earning capacity, as most of the victims were breadwinners.
The lawyers of Unsay and Zaldy, who are now detained in the New Bilibid Prison, said they will file a motion for reconsideration in the next 15 days.
‘Justice is alive’
Mangudadatu, who lost his wife Jenalyn, sisters Eden and Farinah and other relatives in the massacre, expressed his gratitude over the conclusion of the case on Thursday, December 19.
“This event is clear proof that justice in our country is truly alive, and that we will never err when we choose right from wrong, and faith in God and our Constitution,” the now-Maguindanao Second District Representative said.
“My children, siblings, relatives and myself, as well as all the orphaned families, wish to thank the Filipino people for [their] endless prayers and expressions of support so that we may attain the justice that we have been longing for [in] the last 10 years,” Mangudadatu continued.
“The fact that justice tipped to our side makes the 10-year wait all worth it,” he added.
Considered as the worst single instance of election violence in Philippine history, 32 media practitioners were among the victims of the the Maguindanao massacre.
The relatives of the victims also rejoiced at the verdict.
Noemi Parcon, wife of slain journalist Joel Parcon, said she felt happy that justice had been served, adding that now is the time to move on as she promised to sponsor a mass for thanksgiving and for the repose of the souls of the victims.
“If we live in the past, we’ll get nowhere in life. Although we have already moved forward, for us, we did not stop fighting for justice for them,” she said.
“At least, now I can really say their souls may now ‘rest in peace.’ If there is no justice, their souls can never find peace. And because of this, we’re praying and hoping that their souls find peace,” she added.
There are some families, however, who are worried that some of the acquitted individuals might get back at them.
“We have families in Mindanao, and we can’t just erase fears of possible retribution,” said Mary Grace Morales, wife of Rosell Morales and sister of Marites Cablitas, who were both photojournalists.
“We can’t help thinking that those convicted might turn to those acquitted for help in harassing us, or worse,” Ricardo Cachuela, brother of journalist Val Cachuela, echoed.
“Throughout the 10 years, we’ve felt their powerful influence because they have the money,” he said.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution team that handled the Maguindanao massacre case, they are going to study the 761-page decision to determine if there are strong grounds to ask the Quezon City court to review its decision in acquitting some of the suspects.
“In a way we were happy with the decision that was rendered,” said DOJ senior deputy state prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon.
“Some of the accused were acquitted, who we felt the evidence was strong. That is why after the holidays, we would go after the decision and see what we could do, what we could ask for reconsideration,” he added.
Fadullon said they need time to review Reyes’ lengthy decision.
“I think it is premature for us (to say that more accused should have been convicted), considering that the decision is 700-plus pages. We would go over the decision. The prosecution panel knows the evidence it presented in the course of the trial. I think we have an inkling who we think (should be convicted) or what is the justification why they were acquitted,” he explained.
“Then and only then would we make a decision really how many we would be moving for reconsideration. Just give us a little time to browse over the decision because it’s a bit long,” he added.