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Bail OK’d for 16 Maguindanao massacre suspects

MANILA, Philippines - The Quezon City regional trial court handling the 2009 Maguindanao massacre trial yesterday allowed 16 police officers charged in the multiple murder case to post bail of P11.6 million each.

Allowed to post bail for their temporary liberty were Inspector Michael Macaraeg, Senior Police Officer 1 Eduardo Ong, Police Officer 1 Herich Amaba, PO3 Rasid Anton, PO3 Felix Enate, PO1 Esprielito Lejarso, PO1 Narkouk Mascud, PO2 Saudi Pasutan, and PO1 Arnulfo Soriano.

Also allowed to post bail were SPO1 Oscar Donato, PO3 Abibudin Abdulgani, PO2 Hamad Nana, PO2 Saudiar Ulah, PO1 Esmael Guialal, PO1 Abdullah Baguadatu and PO1 Pia Kamidon.

RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes set the bail at P200,000 for each of the 58 murder cases, or a total of P11.6 million per suspect.

Lawyer Aristotle Fayre, counsel for Macaraeg, told The STAR yesterday that his client will still have to raise the amount set by the court, noting that they might consider posting a property bail.

Meanwhile, lawyer Adilberto Golla, counsel of the remaining suspects except Kamidon and Ulah, said his clients were happy with the court order as it showed weakness in the prosecution’s evidence.

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However, Golla said that his clients might not be able to post the bail set by the court as they were just ordinary police officers and do not have the money.

Instead, Golla said they would just file a motion asking the prosecution to rest the presentation of their evidence, stressing that his clients are innocent.

In her nine-page order, Reyes ruled that the evidence of guilt of the accused is not strong to warrant their continued detention for charges in connection with the massacre in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.

However, she said that the ruling on bail only determines the weight of the evidence presented, and not on the guilt and innocence of the accused.

“The grant or denial of bail in capital offenses, as in this case, hinges on the issue of whether or not the evidence of guilt of the accused is strong. The determination of whether or not the evidence of guilt is strong is a matter of judicial discretion,” she added.

In her order, Reyes noted that of the hundreds of documents included in the formal offer of evidence of the prosecution panel on the bail hearings, only four sets of exhibits are relevant to the bail applications of the 16 police officers.

She also noted that only 13 out of 79 witnesses presented have identified or mentioned the police officers in their testimonies.

“Based on evidence on record, not one of the testimonies or exhibits presented by the prosecution had particularly linked and identified (the accused) to the relevant time and place surrounding the alleged killing of the victims,” read the order.

At most, said Reyes, only Amaba and Macaraeg were seen in the vicinity of the supposed crime scene in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

Despite this, she said that none of the witnesses had actually described their role in the death of the victims that could be considered a criminal act.

Dead suspect

Reyes was also supposed to rule on the bail petition of suspect PO2 Hernanie Decipulo, but she noted that the suspect has already died in detention. The suspect jumped off the roof of his detention cell on Feb. 6, 2010.

Meanwhile, another suspect who was granted bail – Ulah – may also face technical issues as his lawyer Yasser Lumbos failed to file a bail petition on the 58th murder case.

With this, Ulah was only asked by the court to pay P11.4 million for the first 57 murder cases.

But without an order on the last case, Ulah will not be able to leave his detention cell at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City even if he posts the bail set by the court.

Court staff said his lawyer must first adopt the bail petition on the 58th murder case, and that the prosecution panel may have to file its formal offer of evidence.

The latest ruling of the Quezon City court may be considered a huge development in the almost five-year trial.

The 17 suspects, including the deceased Decipulo, are among the 197 suspects charged for the Nov. 23, 2009 incident. A total of 110 suspects have been arrested, including prominent members of the Ampatuan political clan.

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