3 Maguindanao massacre suspects acquitted for lack of evidence

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines -  In a landmark ruling, the special court handling the Maguindanao massacre trial has dismissed for lack of evidence the multiple murder case filed against three suspects tagged in the Nov. 23, 2009 bloodbath.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes ordered the release of suspects Kominie Inggo, Dexson Saptula and Abas Anongan after she granted their demurrer to evidence on June 23, court documents obtained by The STAR showed.

The three are detained at the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

A demurrer to evidence is filed after the prosecution has rested its case against the suspects, prompting the court to evaluate whether the evidence presented is enough to warrant the conviction of the accused.

In her eight-page order, Solis-Reyes said the prosecutors failed to establish the guilt of the three suspects, initially implicated as among those who allegedly took part in the killing of 58 individuals, including 32 media practitioners.

The prosecution panel also failed to comment on the demurrer filed by the camp of the three suspects.

The ruling is the first time that the court rendered a ruling based on the evidence presented by the prosecution during the trial proper.

Looking at the evidence presented, the judge noted that no eyewitness identified the three as among those who killed the victims in a hilly portion of Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

“Neither were they pointed at by any of prosecution witnesses as having been seen at any of the meetings called by their co-accused for the purpose of planning and implementing the plan on how the Mangudadatu convoy will be killed,” read the ruling, referring to Genalyn Mangudadatu, who was supposed to file the certificate of candidacy of her husband Esmael and challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan for the gubernatorial post.

Esmael, then Buluan vice mayor, is now governor of Maguindanao.

Part of the convoy were Mangudadatu’s sisters, female lawyers and aides and members of the media who were supposed to cover the filing.

“No one had likewise testified that the three accused were seen present at any of the checkpoints established… near the crime site… on that fateful day of the massacre,” it added.

During the trial proper, the prosecutors merely presented the arresting officers of Saptula and Anongan, whom the court noted as having no direct knowledge of the crimes. No one was presented against Inggo.

“Based on the evidence presented by the prosecution, the court finds that the same failed to prove the existence of all the elements of murder with respect to said accused,” Solis-Reyes said.

“It is indubitable that the prosecution has failed to establish the identities of said accused as among the perpetrators of the crimes charged,” she added.

The three were among the over 100 individuals currently in detention in connection with the massacre. A total of 197 suspects are named in the multiple murder case.

Based on records, charges against five other accused have already been dropped: three were turned into state witnesses, one after his death in detention and another was freed due to lack of merit of the charges even before the trial began.

Members of the once-powerful Ampatuan political family were tagged as masterminds of the crime, dubbed as the single worst incident for journalists in history. Many of the suspects were alleged members of the local police and the clan’s private army.

The trial has been going on for more than seven years.

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