This statement was originally published on cmfr-phil.org on 23 November 2017.
Eight years, zero convictions. This summarizes the 2017 update on the trial of the accused in the Ampatuan massacre of 2009. With more than 100 charged, even a dedicated branch of the court can only do so much.
The magnitude of the trial necessarily imposes the slow pace. The decision to include so many individuals on the same charge necessarily delayed the delivery of justice.
The hearings began on 5 January 2010, less than two months after the killing of 58 persons including 32 journalists and media workers in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, on 23 November 2009. At first, only Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. was the named accused charged before the trial court in Cotabato City. Unsay was positively identified by witnesses to have led the attack on the Mangudadatu convoy that fateful day in November 2009.
Other Ampatuan clan members, police officers, and Civilian Volunteer Organization members were later included in the charge list for the murder of 57 (later 58 counts). This brought the number of the suspected masterminds and accomplices to 197. These were individuals who were identified in two separate investigations, one by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and another by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). At present, the Department of Justice (DOJ) data show 188 persons are officially charged before the trial court.
The Ampatuan Massacre case was first filed before the trial court in Cotabato City. The DOJ and media organizations requested its transfer to the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City. See the Ampatuan Massacre trial timeline.
Petitions for bail by more than 60 percent of the arrested accused, including principal suspects Unsay Ampatuan, Andal Ampatuan Sr., Zaldy Ampatuan, and their family members have further delayed the criminal proceedings.
Seventy (70) out of the 112 arrested suspects petitioned the trial court to allow them to be released on bail. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes granted the petitions of 42 accused, including Sajid Islam Ampatuan and police inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg. Both Sajid Islam Ampatuan and Macaraeg were able to post bail. The other 40 accused, mostly policemen, are still detained as they still have not posted the approximately PHP11.6-million bail.
Meanwhile, on 10 October 2017, the trial court junked Unsay Ampatuan's motion asking for its reconsideration of the denial of his bail petition.
Other issues hounded the trial. The identification of some of the 197 charged was a tedious process, a problem foreseen by some lawyers involved in the Ampatuan Massacre case. For example, accused Datukan Malang Salibo questioned his arrest and continued detention through a petition for habeas corpus before the Court of Appeals in 2010. He claimed that he was not the Butukan S. Malang listed among the 197 charged in the Ampatuan Massacre. The Court of Appeals denied his petition. But, in April 2015, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the appellate court and ordered Salibo's release.
Eighty-two (82) accused still remain at-large, or approximately 44 percent of the 188 officially charged. Like the two preceding governments which did not issue directives for the immediate capture of the accused, the Duterte administration has not issued any clear policy on the arrest of those still at large. At present, 102 accused are currently detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City. Four have died while in detention, including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Meanwhile, three accused were acquitted by the Quezon City trial court on demurrer last June 23. The trial court granted the demurrer to evidence of Kominie Inggo, Dexson Saptula, and Abas Anongan as the court found weak evidence that they directly participated in the murders. According to the Quezon City court, no prosecution eyewitness saw them at the massacre site, at the checkpoints, or at the meeting where the crime was planned. A defendant may file a demurrer to evidence if he believes that there is no sufficient evidence against him after the prosecution rested its case. (Click here for more information)
Defense presentation of evidence-in-chief
The prosecution panel had concluded its presentation of witnesses and evidence in 2016. The prosecution submitted its formal offer of evidence for 108 accused; only those in connection with Unsay Ampatuan, Jonathan Engid and five others are yet to be filed. Engid was arrested only in February 2017; meanwhile, the trial only ruled against Unsay's bail this year.
The Quezon City trial court is now hearing evidence of the defense. Nena Santos, a private prosecutor in the Ampatuan Massacre case, said that more or less seven accused will begin presenting their evidence in November and December 2017 and in the first quarter of 2018. Santos is hopeful that all defense lawyers can finish their presentation by 2018. With this, she believes that the court would be ruling on the guilt of the accused masterminds, accessories and accomplices.
Last November 17, during a regular meeting of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, the DOJ reported that 22 accused already terminated their presentation of evidence. The cases against 13 accused have been submitted for decision.
A hopeful end
The exact end of their prolonged agony may remain unclear, but the families remain hopeful that justice will be served when it comes. In a press conference last November 21, Maguindanao District Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu said that: "The wounds may have healed but the abuse and impunity that the perpetrators of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao Massacre still remain fresh and bleeding. It will only stop when we have achieved justice."