A trial court has declared several members of the influential Ampatuan clan guilty of multiple murder for the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao in 2009 that is known as an unprecedented case of election-related violence and an exceptionally brutal attack on the press.
Among the Ampatuan clan members convicted were former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Anwar "Ipi" Ampatuan Jr., and Anwar Sajid "Ulo" Ampatuan. They were judged guilty for 57 counts of murder.
Along with Manny, Mohades, and Misuari Ampatuan, several police officers and other personalities, they were sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or up to 40 years of imprisonment, without parole.
Fourteen police officers and Bong Andal, who operated the backhoe in the infamous massacre, were sentenced to six to 10 years in prison after they were found to have acted as accessories to the crime.
Clan patriarch Andal Sr. was also among the accused but he died of liver cancer while in detention in 2015.
Four Ampatuans — Akmad alias "Tato," Sajid Islam, Jonathan, Jimmy— along with dozens of other individuals were, meanwhile, acquitted on the ground of reasonable doubt; three were acquitted for the prosecution's "absolute" failure to prove their guilt. They were ordered released from jail unless they are being detained for other lawful causes.
In her 761-page decision, the judge also ordered the principal accused to pay hundreds of thousands to millions of pesos in damages and loss of earning capacity to the heirs of each of the victims — except that of photojournalist Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay, the 58th massacre victim whose body was never found.
The court acquitted all the accused over Momay's death due to reasonable doubt and dismissed his family's claim for damages, something his daughter Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo was dismayed over.
The decision marks the conclusion at the trial court level of 10 years of anxious waiting for the massacre victims' families, who have constantly called for justice for their loved ones.
Convictions are appealable all the way up to the Supreme Court.
Relatives of the victims, including then-Buluan vice mayor and incumbent Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu who lost his wife and sisters in the slays, as well as senators and rights groups welcomed the decision.
The convicted members of the influential clan, who signified an intention to move for a reconsideration of the verdict, were immediately transferred to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, from the Quezon City Jail Annex at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.
Deadliest attack on press
On November 23, 2009, the wife, sisters, relatives, and supporters of a 2010 Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate — challenging an Ampatuan — were on their way to file his candidacy when they were abducted by around a hundred armed men, forced up a remote hill, and shot using high-powered firearms. They were buried in a mass grave.
Thirty-two of the victims were members of the media who had accompanied the camp of the candidate, Mangudadatu, to cover the filing. Mangudadatu is now a congressman.
Six of the victims were not part of the Mangudadatu and media convoy.
Aside from being the Philippines' worst case of election-related violence, the massacre is considered by the Committee to Protect Journalists as the single deadliest attack on the press since it began keeping records on journalist deaths.
The Ampatuans, including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan, Sr., were blamed for the crime, arrested, charged, and later on tried for multiple murder. Andal Sr. died in 2015. His sons presented different alibis in court.
A total of 197 people, including 15 Ampatuans, were charged. Over the course of the trial, six were cleared, two discharged as state witnesses, and eight died in detention. Eighty people are still at large. When proceedings wrapped up after more than nine years, 101 defendants remained.
Hundreds of volumes and tens of thousands of pages of case records piled up throughout nearly a decade. By the time the case was submitted for resolution last August, Solis-Reyes had heard 357 witnesses over a total of 424 trial days, according to court records. —KBK/RSJ/MDM, GMA News