GUILTY beyond reasonable doubt.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 yesterday handed down the guilty verdict on former mayor Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan and 26 others who are the primary suspects in the gruesome murder of 57 people in the case that hogged international headlines as the “Maguindanao Massacre” murders case.
Among the victims of the “Maguindanao Massacre” were 32 journalists in what was one of the world’s single biggest attacks on media.
Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes sentenced the suspects to reclusion perpetua or life imprisonment without parole pursuant to the Death Penalty law, or Republic Act 9346. Under the law, substitute penalty for capital punishment is 40 years in jail.
Aside from Andal Jr. and Zaldy, also found guilty of multiple murders and sentenced to suffer the same penalty are Datu Anwar Sajid Ulo Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ipi Ampatuan Jr., Police Insp. Saudi Mokamad, PO1 Jonathan Engid, Abedin Alamada alias Kumander Bedi, Talembo ‘Tammy’ Masukat, Theng Sali alias Abdullah Hamad Abdulkahar, Manny Ampatuan, Nasser Esmael alias Nasrudin Esmael, Police Chief Insp. Sukarno Dicay.
Former Maguindanao police provincial director Supt.Abusama Mundas Maguid, Police Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong, Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Tato Tampogao, Mohades Ampatuan, Mohamad Datumanong, Misuari Ampatuan, Taya Bangkulat, Salik Bangkulat, Thing Guimano, Sonny Pindi, Armando Ambalgan, Kudza Masukat Uguia, Edres Kasan, Zacaria Akil and Samaon Andatuan.
Solis-Reyes ordered the principal accused to “jointly and severally” pay the heirs of the victims a total amount of P155, 342, 461.33 in damages covering civil, moral, exemplary, temperate and lost earning capacity.
“The accused are hereby directed to pay the aforementioned amount with an interest rate of six percent per annum reckoned from the rendition of judgment until the award shall have been fully paid,” the court decision read.
Solis-Reyes also found 15 of the accused guilty as accessories and sentenced them to imprisonment of six years to 10 years and eight months.
They were Police Insp. Michael Joy Macaraeg, PO3 Felix Enate, PO3 Abibudin Abdulgani, PO3 Rasid Anton, PO2 Hamad Nana, PO2 Saudi Pasutan, PO2 Saudiar Ulah, PO1 Esprielito Lejarso, PO1 Narkouk Mascud, PO1 Pia Kamidon, PO1 Esmael Guialal, PO1 Arnulfo Soriano, PO1 Herich Amaba, Police Supt. Abdulgapor Abad and Bong Andal.
On November 23, 2009, the wife, sisters, relatives, and supporters of Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu was en route to the office of the Commission on Elections to file the certificate of candidacy of the former Buluan town vice mayor, when they were waylaid by around a hundred armed men, forced up a remote hill, and shot using high-powered firearms.
The bodies of the victims were buried in a mass grave using a backhoe owned by the Maguindanao provincial government.
A total of 197 people were charged with multiple murders in relation to the mass murder.
Over the course of the trial, six of the accused were cleared, two discharged as state witnesses, and eight died while in detention.
Court records showed hundreds of volumes and tens of thousands of pages of documents were submitted throughout the 10-year trial.
Another Ampatuan brother, Sajid Islam, and brother-in-law Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr. were acquitted due to reasonable doubt.
Sajid Islam, who posted P11.6 million in bail for his temporary liberty, was absent during the promulgation.
Solis-Reyes directed Sajid Islam to explain within five days why he was not able to attend the promulgation of the case considering that he was apprised of the date of the verdict reading.
“All the accused were notified and they cannot waive their presence in the promulgation,” Solis-Reyes said after prosecutors asked the court to order the accused to explain his absence in writing.
Also acquitted on the ground of reasonable doubt were SPO1 Elizer Rendaje, SPO1 Alimela Gulanaton, SPO1 Samad Maguindra,PO3 Ricky Balanueco,PO3 Gibrael Alano,PO2 Rexson Gulama, PO1 Amir Solaiman, PO1 Badjun Panegas, PO1 Pendatun Dima,PO1 Ebara Bebot, PO1 Tamano Hadi, PO1 Michael Macarongon, SPO1 Ali Sollano, PO3 Felix Daquillos,PO2 Kendatu Rakim, PO1 Abdulraman Batarasa, PO1 Marjul Julkadi, PO1 Datu Jerry Utto, PO1 Mohammad Balading, PO1 Marsman Nilong, PO1 Ysmail Baraquir, PO1 Abdulraman Saavedra, PO1 Jimmy Kadtong, PO1 Sandy Sabang, Takpan Dilon. PO1 Warden Legawan, Jonathan Ampatuan, Jimmy Ampatuan, Rainer Ebus, Mohamad Sangki, Tho Amino, Norman Tatak, Malaguial Tanuri, Alimudin Sanguyod, Mama Habib, Sahid Gulamadel, Datutulon Esmael, Kasim Lingkong, Akad Macaton, Mohamad Salazar Piang, Norhato Kamino, Nasser Malaguia, Police Insp. Banarin Kamaong, Police Supt. Abdulwahid Pedtucasan, PO1 Ahmad Camsa Badal, PO2 Tanny Dalgan, PO1 Anwar Masukat, Samsudin Daud, Maot Bangkulat, Denga Mentol, and Fahad Utto.
The court also acquitted PO1 Abdullah Baguadatu PO1 Oscar Donato and POI Michael Madsig as “the evidence of the prosecution has absolutely failed to prove their guilt.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the prosecution panel expected the acquittals, saying he was confident that Solis-Reyes “very extensively examined the evidence” and rendered the decision with impartiality.
“Today is the day we have awaited and I am very happy as secretary of justice that finally justice has been served,” Guevarra said when sought for reaction after the verdict was announced.
“We of course know that the principal accused here has been convicted but some of the accused has been acquitted. This is something that the prosecution has more or less anticipated. We know from the beginning where our strength lies and where certain gaps in our evidence exist so this is something more or less expected,” he added.
Mangudadatu said that for him, there is still no total closure to the murder cases because of the acquittals and the large number of suspects still at-large.
He said he will appeal the acquittal of Sajid Islam and Akmad before the Court of Appeals, and will go all the way to the Supreme Court if he loses at the appellate court.
“Marami ng mga witnesses ang willing to come out in the open to testify against Sajid since nag-post siya nung bail nung 2015 kung saan sinabi na mahina ang ebidensya laban sa kanya at ‘yang mga witnesses ang kukunan namin ng testimonya para maoverturn ang acquittal (There are many witnesses against Sajid who are willing to testify against him.
We will get their testimonies and use them when we appeal his acquittal),” he said.
Solis-Reyes ordered the immediate release of the acquitted suspects.
“Accordingly, the jail warden of the Quezon City Jail Annex is hereby ordered to immediately release the aforementioned accused unless they are being detained for some other lawful causes,” she said.
The cases against eight of the accused – former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., PO2 Hernanie Decipulo, Moactar Daud, SPO1 Eduardo Ong, Nasser Talib, Macton Bilungan and PO1 Bersedick Alfonso who died while in detention during the trial, was dismissed by the court.
ARREST WARRANTS ISSUED
Solis-Reyes ordered the arrest of remaining Ampatuans who remain at large – Datu Kanor Ampatuan, Datu Bahnarin Ampatuan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr., Datu Harris Ampatuan and Dato Moning Ampatuan.
Mogira Hadji Anggulat, identified as the arms custodian of the Ampatuans, was also ordered arrested.
Overall, 80 suspects remain at large.
PNP officer-in-charge Lt. Gen. Archie Gamboa ordered an all-out manhunt operation against the 80 suspects.
Gamboa directed the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Intelligence Group and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim regional police office to conduct the massive manhunt operation for the 80 fugitives.
The 80 includes police Inspector Michael Joy Ines Macarageg who was earlier allowed to post bail. Macaraeg, who was among those found guilty, did not appear during the promulgation of the decision.
The court has issued a warrant for Macaraeg’s arrest.
“Considering the nature of their crime and their continued flight from justice, we presume these fugitives to be armed and dangerous,” Gamboa said.
PNP spokesman Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said the BARRM police “is constantly monitoring the activities of known supporters and followers of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao.”
The historic decision- a total of 761 pages- marks the conclusion at the trial court level of 10 years of anxious waiting for the massacre victims’ families and their supporters here and abroad, who have crying for justice for the grim death of their loved ones.
The lawyers of Datu Andal and Zaldy said they will file a motion for reconsideration of the court ruling within 15 days.
Convictions are appealable all the way up to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
OFF TO BILIBID
On court orders, Datu Andal and Zaldy were brought to the National Bilibid Prison by personnel of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology hours after the promulgation.
The prosecution had earlier asked the court to issue the commitment order for the transfer of the convicted suspects from their present detention cells at the Quezon City Jail Annex inside the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Bureau of Corrections chief Gerald Bantag said no special or VIP treatment will be accorded the Ampatuans.
“They will be treated like ordinary prisoners here,” Bantag said, adding he will speak with them before they are escorted to the Maximum Security Compound.
Under BuCor rules, an inmate will spend the first 60 days at the NBP’s Reception and Diagnostic Center to undergo quarantine and medical examinations to determine their physical and mental states.
The inmates will also be oriented on prison rules and regulations.
NO BODY, NO CASE
The family of journalist Reynaldo Momay, the 58th victim, got no court compensation because his body was never recovered by authorities. Only Momay’s dentures were found in the crime scene at sitio Masalay, barangay Salman, Ampatuan town.
Momay family lawyer Harry Roque said they will appeal the civil aspect of the case and run after the damages.
“Hindi naman yata pwede na nahanap ang pustiso ni Mr. Momay, na confirmed na sumama sa nasabing coverage at nawala hanggang sa ngayon na hindi sya naging biktima (It would have been impossible to find his dentures in the crime scene and insist that he was not among the victims),” Roque said.
Momay’s daughter, Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo who is working abroad, took to social media to express her family’s dismay over the ruling of the court.
“Sad day for me and my family. Justice for my Dad,” she said in a post on her Facebook account.
Lawyer Romel Bagares of the Center for International Law said the only trace found of Momay at the massacre site was his dentures.
“There was no body, no corpus delicti but a dental technician testified during the trial that the dentures were made for Momay. There was an unbroken chain of circumstantial evidence placing him on that ill-fated convoy, up to the very last hour,” Bagares told reporters. – With Victor Reyes and Reuters