DOJ indicts 8 more, clears 40 in Ampatuan massacre

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
DOJ indicts 8 more, clears 40 in Ampatuan massacre
The panel of prosecutors resolved the second batch of cases last year, lawyer Nena Santos, who represents the families of the victims, confirmed during an online forum commemorating the 11th anniversary of the massacre yesterday.
Rhoderick Beñez

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Justice (DOJ) has found probable cause to file multiple murder charges against only eight out of the 48 people included in the second batch of accused in connection with the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

The panel of prosecutors resolved the second batch of cases last year, lawyer Nena Santos, who represents the families of the victims, confirmed during an online forum commemorating the 11th anniversary of the massacre yesterday.

Santos said they only received a copy of the resolution last Oct. 27 even though it was dated Aug. 28, 2019, almost four months before the landmark conviction of some of the accused included in the first batch of cases filed in connection with the massacre.

She later released a copy of the ruling and their motion for reconsideration appealing the dismissal of the case against 40 people.

Assistant state prosecutors Josie Christina Dugay, Mary Jane Sytat, Jovyanne Santa Maria and Loverhette Jeffrey Villordon signed the 33-page resolution. Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento approved it.

The second batch of charges was filed in March 2015, almost six years after the massacre. It was based on the testimonies presented during the trial of the initial suspects arrested for the incident.

Witnesses alleged that the respondents were either present at the crime scene or attended the meetings where the massacre of the convoy carrying the victims was planned.

Based on the resolution, the prosecutors found probable cause to file murder charges against suspects Datu Moning Ampatuan Asum, Datu Harris Ampatuan Macapendeng, Dali Kamendan alias Kumander Boy, Mautin Upam, Rene Upam, Datu Diego Mamalapat, Daud Kamendan alias Kumander Kuatro and a certain Biton from the Philippine National Police (PNP).

The cases against them will be filed before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, which last year handed down the verdict against over 100 suspects arrested for the massacre.

At least 57 people, including 32 media practitioners, were killed in the 2009 massacre, which prompted former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to impose martial law in Maguindanao.

The victims were on their way to a local elections office to witness the filing of the certificate of candidacy for then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu when they were flagged and killed by armed men in Ampatuan town. ?Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes convicted 28 suspects, including Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Anwar Sr., to a maximum of 40 years in prison for the massacre. Fifty-six people, most of them police officers, were acquitted.

Trial is ongoing for four suspects arrested after the verdict was handed down, while 76 suspects included in the first batch of cases remain at large.

Malacañang expressed confidence that the suspects in the worst case of election violence and deadliest single attack on the press who remain at large would be arrested. ?Presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted that while members of the Ampatuan clan are now behind bars, other suspects are still free. ?“Justice has been achieved under the Duterte administration. At least the Ampatuan brothers are in jail. This is still justice for the victims and the families of those who died. People who planned the Maguindanao massacre have been found guilty,” Roque, a former counsel of some of the massacre victims, said at a press briefing yesterday. ?“There are suspects who are still at large but they will be caught and they will be held to account before the law. We will never forget,” he added.

From the second batch of suspects, the DOJ cleared 40 other individuals, including former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao solicitor general and now Cotabato Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi and several members of the Ampatuan clan.

These include Jakub Ampatuan Lumenda, Samsudin Ampatuan, Nanun Ampatuan, Benzar Ampatuan, Pandag Ampatuan, Amerah Ampatuan Mamalapat, Rebecca Ampatuan, Reshal Santiago Ampatuan, Sahara Upam Ampatuan and Kudzbari Ampatuan.

Other individuals cleared by the panel of prosecutors include police officers, allies and alleged members of the private army of the Ampatuan clan.

In clearing those who were alleged to have been at the crime scene, the prosecutors said “mere passive presence… does not implicate one who is not shown to have conspired with another in killing the victim.”

To establish conspiracy, they said evidence of actual cooperation is required rather than mere cognizance or approval of an illegal act.

In the case of Sayadi and the other respondent Ampatuans, the prosecutors said “they may have attended some of the supposed meetings, but did not take part in the actual killings.”

“To reiterate, mere presence at the scene of the crime does not automatically make one liable for it, much less presence in the place or meeting where the crime was allegedly planned,” read the resolution.

“Even so, none of the complainants and their witnesses mentioned active participation by these respondents; thus, a finding of probable cause must fail,” it added.

In her 51-page motion for reconsideration, Santos maintained that the case involves an express conspiracy as there is direct proof of actual agreement involving respondents, citing direct testimonies of the witnesses.

“The presence and participation (of the respondents) in the meeting which discussed the planning and preparation of the murder of several individuals, is precisely the overt act or active participation of the abovementioned respondents in the premeditated conspiracy of the brutal murders subject of the present case,” read the motion dated Nov. 10.

“There is no other cogent reason for the said respondents to be at the meeting, except to offer their ideas, lend their moral aid or support or to overall facilitate the commission of the multiple murders,” it added.

Santos also asked the DOJ to order the present panel of prosecutors to inhibit from the case and designate a new panel to resolve their appeal.

PNP chief Gen. Debold Sinas yesterday vowed to continue tracking down 80 more suspects involved in the Maguindanao massacre.

“While there are persistent reports that some of these wanted persons have, in fact, left the country, the PNP will continue to exert effort in finding these fugitives to serve the ends of justice,” Sinas said. – Alexis Romero


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