THE lawyer of former Maguindanao governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and 38 other victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre yesterday expressed confidence the principal accused in the case would be convicted.
Lawyer Nena Santos said they expect Quezon City RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes to render a decision on the controversial case before the 10th year of the massacre, in which 58 people were killed, including 32 print and broadcast journalists, on Nov. 23.
Last August, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said they expect a decision to be rendered within the year, probably before the 10th year of the controversial case.
“We are waiting for promulgation of judgment and I am confident that the principal accused will be convicted,” Santos said, referring to former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Also among the principal accused are Andal’s brother, former ARMM government Zaldy Ampatuan and their father, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. The elder Ampatuan died in 2015 while under detention due to a lingering illness.
Santos said the trial of the case dragged on for 10 years due to the sheer number of the accused – 197 – and victims – 58, change of counsel of the accused, numerous motions and pleadings and threats and deaths of several witnesses.
Of the 197 accused, 90 are in detention, including the Ampatuan siblings; 11 are out on bail including their brother, Sajid Islam Ampatuan who was allowed to post bail by the court; eight have died including Ampatuan Sr.; two accused have been discharged as state witnesses, while six others were dropped as respondents.
Santos said the political influence of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao has “significantly declined” since the massacre but there are still areas where they still wield power and clout.
“If there would be no conviction, I am sorry to say that press freedom in the Philippines is dead. Impunity, if no one gets into jail because of killing media people, so where is democracy there, where is press freedom there when you can kill anybody?” she said.