Ampatuan Massacre: No Clear End in SightBy Melanie Y. Pinlac
Journalists were killed
Years on trial
THE TRIAL of the masterminds and perpetrators of the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao continued in 2016 with no clear end in sight.
Despite the vow of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to see the successful prosecution of the perpetrators, the Aquino administration ended without any conviction from the trial.
Meanwhile, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has created a Presidential Task Force on Media Safety which will review past cases of journalist killings and monitor attacks and threats against the media. However, the Office of the President has said that the Task Force will not actively focus any action regarding the Ampatuan massacre case. The Palace pointed out that a special panel from the ranks of the Department of Justice (DOJ) is already working on the massacre trial.
Seven years long
The trial of 197 accused officially began on January 5, 2010 after the case was transferred to the sala of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City. It was first filed at the Cotabato City RTC. Seven years later, not one of the accused has been convicted for any part of the crime.
The panel of state prosecutors and media groups, Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc. and National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, asked the Supreme Court (SC) in separate petitions to transfer the multiple murder case to a court in Metro Manila. The SC sitting en banc granted the petitions on December 8, 2009.
The 2009 massacre targeted Genalin Mangudadatu (wife of present Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu), who was filing the certificate of candidacy (COC) for her husband. Mangudadatu was set to challenge the hold of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao. The Commission on Elections had transferred its regional office to Shariff Aguak — a location under the jurisdiction of the Ampatuans — a few days before the start of the period to file COCs. The ambush also resulted in the deaths of Mangudadatu’s sisters, the family lawyers, supporters, 32 journalists and media workers, along with six other civilian passers-by.
One hundred fourteen of the 197 accused had been arrested or detained since 2009. However, only 106 perpetrators are currently being tried before Quezon City court due to various circumstances.
In 2010, the case against PO1 Johann Draper was dismissed for lack of probable cause. In 2013, Sukarno Badal, former Sultan Sa Barongis vice mayor, was removed from the list of accused in the Amended Informations. Badal is a lead prosecution witness and now under the protection of the Witness Protection, Security and Benefits Program of the Department of Justice.
Two other accused have been discharged as state witnesses, including Esmael Canapia in 2014 (See http://cmfr-phil.org/ampatuanwatch/case-updates/suspect-turned-state-witness-testifies-another-arraigned/) and Police Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon in 2016. Four accused have died during the period of the trial. This includes Ampatuan family patriarch Andal Sr., who succumbed to liver failure on July 17, 2015.
The prosecution has finished their presentation of evidence against 103 accused —excluding Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and two others. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno reported in her annual meet-the-press forum that the prosecution has filed five batches of formal offers of evidence as of August 2016. The court has resolved the first two batches — the first for nine accused and the second for 45 accused.
The Supreme Court’s Public Information Office in a media briefer dated November 23, 2016 said that lawyers for the first nine accused had already presented evidence, or filed demurrer to evidence.
A demurrer is an application to dismiss the case, which the court or tribunal may grant or deny. The party demurring admits the facts of the preceding pleading to be true, but questions the sufficiency of facts for the case to proceed.
The presentation of evidence for the next batch of accused will commence in January 2017. Additional information from the office said that a total of 232 witnesses had been presented before Branch 221 of the Quezon City RTC. This number included 58 representatives from the families of the victims (private complainants in the multiple murder case).
Widows of some of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan Massacre marched to Mendiola on 23 November 2016 to demand justice.
On the petitions for bail, only Unsay’s petition remains pending before the Quezon City RTC.
The issue of Unsay’s petition for bail has spanned seven years, the initial petition (for the first batch of Information filed in court) dating back to December 3, 2009 when the case was still with the Cotabato City RTC. As the DOJ filed the Informations against the accused perpetrators, Unsay’s lawyers also responded with separate petitions. The court decided to consolidate all petitions which have yet to be resolved.
Unsay’s lawyers only concluded presenting their rebuttal evidence against the prosecution’s evidence for the bail hearings in October 2016. The Quezon City trial court has yet to rule on Unsay’s formal offer of evidence.
Other bail petitions were either dismissed (26), granted (42) or declared moot and academic as in the case of Hernani Decipulo who allegedly committed suicide while in detention.
The only one released on bail was Sajid Islam Ampatuan as he was the sole accused able to pay the PHP11.6 million bail bond. He ran in the mayoralty race of the municipality of Shariff Aguak in May 2016 but lost the elections.
Discharged as state witness
The Quezon City court discharged one of the accused police officers, Police Inspector Diongon who turned state witness in April 2016.
The trial court found that Diongon sufficiently satisfied the elements of the state witness rule under Section 17, Rule 119 of the Revised Rules of Criminal Procedure. It explained that Diongon “uniquely testified” about the actual roles portrayed by 25 police officers in the massacre.
One of the highlights of Diongon’s testimony was the November 19, 2009 meeting at the house of Unsay Ampatuan. During the said meeting, the setting up of checkpoints was discussed, specifying the locations at the national highway to intercept the convoy of Genalin Mangudadatu.
Diongon also testified that at the checkpoint in Barangay Malating the convoy of the Mangudadatus and media was blocked and led to the remote hilltop where they were shot. His testimony also included the attempt of a cover-up.
Several court motions were involved to make Diongon’s testimony admissible in court.
The prosecution first moved for the discharge of Diongon and several others accused as state witnesses in April 2011. The trial court then denied the discharge motion stating that Diongon’s testimony was “merely corroborative” and that “there is no absolute necessity for his testimony insofar as (Unsay and Andal Sr.) are concerned.” In an Omnibus Motion dated November 10, 2011, the trial court explained that “the discharge of Diongon at that time would be of no use in light of the non-apprehension of their co-accused whom he had mentioned to have participated in the commission of the offense(s) charged.”
The prosecution through the Office of the Solicitor General filed a petition for certiorari before the CA after the denial of its motion for reconsideration.
While the petition before the CA was pending, the prosecution filed another Motion to Discharge on June 22, 2012. The CA eventually denied the petition for certiorari, but ordered the trial court to give due course to the second Motion to Discharge.
In the second motion, the prosecution explained that Diongon’s testimony was the only available evidence to prove the specific participation of Sajid Ampatuan, Police Supt. Abusama Mundas Maguid, Police Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong, Police Senior Insp. Abdulgapor Abad, and members of the 1507th and 1508th Provincial Police Mobile Group in the massacre.
Still pending at the DOJ is a complaint naming 50 additional accused in the Ampatuan Massacre. The 50 individuals included local government officials and police officers in the testimonies of witnesses presented in the trial of the 197 accused before the Quezon City court.
They were initially charged before the provincial prosecutor of Maguindanao last January 7, 2015 for their involvement in the planning, execution and cover up of the November 23, 2009 massacre. Should probable cause be found, it would bring the number of accused charged in the multiple murder case to 247. (See http://cmfr-phil.org/ampatuanwatch/case-updates/49-more-suspects-charged-in-ampatuan-massacre/)
Meanwhile, the petition for certiorari filed by Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr., former Mamasapano municipal mayor and son-in-law of Andal Sr., remains unresolved before the Supreme Court. Tato Ampatuan questioned the May 5, 2010 resolution of then acting DOJ Secretary Alberto Agra reinstating Tato and former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan in the list of accused for the Ampatuan Massacre case. The Manila CA denied Tato’s petition.
Saudi “Sham” Ampatuan Jr.’s petition for review of the Secretary of Justice’s and panel of prosecutors’ finding of probable cause before the Office of the President also remains to be decided. Sham Ampatuan is the former mayor of Datu Saudi Ampatuan town and a grandson of Andal Sr.