80 massacre suspects, including  15 Ampatuans, remain at large
Journalists and artists march toward the People’s Park in Baguio City the other night ahead of the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre. Fifty-eight people, including 32 journalists, were shot and killed on Nov. 23, 2009. ANDY ZAPATA JR.

80 massacre suspects, including 15 Ampatuans, remain at large

Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The quest for justice for victims of the Maguindanao massacre is far from over, even as the promulgation of judgment on the multiple murder case is expected before yearend.   

A decade since the gruesome incident that sent shockwaves all over the world, dozens of other suspects – including some members of the once powerful Ampatuan clan – remain free and have yet to be arrested.

Court records show that only 117 out of the original 197 suspects have been arrested in connection with the Nov. 23, 2009 incident.

Fifteen suspects surnamed Ampatuan remain at large, including Datu Kanor Ampatuan, brother of deceased clan patriarch former Maguindanao governor Andal Sr.

Also wanted are Kanor’s son Datu Mama and Andal Sr.’s grandsons Bahnarin and Saudi Jr.

Other suspects surnamed Ampatuan who have yet to be arrested include Datu Harris, Datu Moning, Datu Norodin, Tony Kenis and Kagi Amar.

All nine have a P300,000 reward each for their arrest, according to the wanted poster previously released by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippine National Police.

The remaining six – Datu Dainga, Alnor, Rodel, Kertz, Intan, and Mohamad – each have a P250,000 reward for any information that would lead to their arrest.

The last time a suspect was arrested was in September 2016, when Akad Macaton alias Mohamad Salazar Piang was nabbed in an operation in Sultan Kudarat. He has since been arraigned and underwent trial.

Earlier this month, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS) requested for copies of the arrest warrants of the suspects still at large.

“Our records show that many of the suspects involved in the gruesome killings remain scot-free and [are] yet to be brought before the folds of the law in order to stand trial and face charges against them,” PTFoMS executive director Joel Egco said in his letter to Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

Egco said the task force, created by President Duterte in 2016, will be used to facilitate the immediate arrest of the suspects.

Based on records, 11 of those who have yet to be arrested are former police officers, while a majority were alleged members of the private army of the Ampatuan clan.

Verdict soon

The plan of the PTFoMS to intensify the manhunt for suspects at large tagged in the massacre came even as Solis-Reyes is in the process of coming up with a verdict for those currently in detention.

Earlier this month, Supreme Court administrator Jose Midas Marquez gave Solis-Reyes a non-extendable deadline of Dec. 20 to promulgate judgment against 101 arrested suspects still on trial.

The judge was initially set to issue a verdict on or before Nov. 20, but asked for an extension due to the magnitude of the cases.

Based on records, the decade-long trial has accumulated 165 volumes of records of proceedings; 65 volumes of transcripts of stenographic notes and eight volumes of prosecution’s documentary evidence.

A total of 357 witnesses have been presented during the marathon hearings both at the Quezon City court and in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, where most of the accused are detained.

Among those presented were kin of the 58 victims, 134 other prosecution witnesses and 165 defense witnesses.

Of the 117 arrested, eight have died while in detention, including clan patriarch Andal Sr. who succumbed to liver cancer in 2015.

Others who died in detention were Hernanie Decipulo in 2012; Moktar Daud in 2016; Edgardo Ong in 2017; and Nasser Talib, Macton Bilungan and Bensedick Alfonso last year.

The court has dismissed the criminal cases against them in line with a provision of the Revised Penal Code that extinguishes the criminal liability of suspects if they die before final judgment.

Meanwhile, charges against five suspects have been dismissed due to lack of probable cause or insufficiency of evidence. They were Johann Draper, Abas Anongan, Tumi Timba Abas, Kominie Inggo and Dexson Saptula.

Three suspects were allowed to become state witnesses: former Sultan sa Barongis, Maguindanao vice mayor Sukarno Badal and police officers Esmael Canapia and Rex Ariel Diongon.

Eleven suspects are out on bail, including former Maguindanao officer-in-charge Sajid Islam Ampatuan, son of the late Andal Sr.

Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan is currently confined at the Makati Medical Center due to complications brought about by his existing heart ailment, while his brothers Andal Jr. and Anwar Sr. are detained at the Quezon City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa.

Kin hopeful

Relatives of the victims of the massacre are hopeful that the judge will find the suspects guilty.

Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife Genalyn led the convoy that was massacred, said only a guilty verdict would heal the wounds caused by the massacre.

“Please give us the justice that we are seeking for. Ten years is enough and I hope that the one month extension, before Dec. 20, the resolution that will convict them will be released,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino at a press conference on Thursday.

His lawyer Nena Santos expressed confidence for a guilty verdict, saying the prosecution panel presented strong evidence against the accused.

Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of photojournalist Reynaldo Momay, said every single day of delay in the case deprives every victim and their families a chance at redemption.

“Through the years, I never let go of the fight to seek for justice. I never once thought that I am on the losing end. I still have the light of hope that the lives lost were for a cause,” she said in a statement released by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

“As someone who has undergone severe pain of loss, one can say, ‘It never goes away,’” she added.

Momay was one of 32 media practitioners killed in the massacre. His remains were never found, but it was later proven that he was among the victims.

The victims, led by Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn, were en route to the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak when they were stopped and brutally murdered by more than one hundred men.

Genalyn was supposed to file the certificate of candidacy of her husband, who was set to challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan for the gubernatorial post.

Also dead were Mangudadatu’s sisters, lawyers, aides and private citizens who were mistaken to be part of the convoy.

Charged with multiple murder are prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, who have repeatedly denied involvement in the crime despite testimonies of multiple witnesses.

The incident was dubbed as the single worst case of journalist killings in the world and has cemented the Philippines’ status as one of the worst places for journalists globally.

Impunity persists

Various groups have reiterated their call for justice for the victims of the massacre, noting that the culture of impunity in the country persists one decade after the massacre.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said no other outcome but a guilty verdict is acceptable in the case.

“Convictions of the perpetrators and full recompense of the victims’ families will be a first step in reversing the long and tragic injustice. The government, however, has to do much more to banish the political barbarism that engenders such attacks,” the group said.

“We call on officials at the highest level to take effective steps to stop all forms of attacks and intimidation against journalists. They should fulfill their core constitutional duty to protect fundamental freedoms,” it added.

In a statement, the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP CMC) said the continuing culture of impunity in the country is both disappointing and disconcerting.

It noted that the quest for justice goes beyond the Maguindanao massacre, noting the present attacks against the media, including by President Duterte and those in government.

“The Ampatuan massacre is a glaring evidence of how impunity reigns in the country,” read the statement. “But let us not lose sight of the continuing harassment and intimidation of the Philippine press.”

The UP CMC scored the PTFoMS, saying that the task force established to ensure media security has been silent amid attacks by the President on press freedom and freedom of expression.

“Three years after its establishment, the PTFoMS is now reduced to a presidential apologist as it refuses to publicly hold the President to account for his actions against the media,” said the college.

Various activities are slated to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the massacre this week.

Several artists were expected to perform at a benefit concert in Quezon City last night for the relatives of the victims of the massacre. A mural painting followed by a march to Mendiola will be held on Saturday in Manila. 

There will also be 58 seconds of dead air among members of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas starting at 11:18 a.m. on Saturday to commemorate the victims. Reports said the first gunshot was heard at this time on the day of the massacre.

Some relatives of the victims last week visited the massacre site in Sitio Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao to commemorate the incident.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with