Appeals court convicts checkpoint cop in Maguindanao massacre

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Appeals court convicts checkpoint cop in Maguindanao massacre
Police investigators look for evidence next to a backhoe after a vehicle and human remains were dug up from a shallow grave in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao in a Nov. 25, 2009 file photo. Andal Ampatuan Jr. (inset) is the principal accused in the massacre.

MANILA, Philippines — The Court of Appeals reversed the Quezon City court’s acquittal of a police officer who manned a checkpoint during the 2009 Ampatuan massacre.

The CA's Special Sixth Division, in a ruling penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr., granted the Petition for Certiorari filed by the Office of the Solicitor General that questioned QC Regional Trial Court Branch 221’s March 11 Omnibus Order that acquitted SPO2 Badawi Bakal.

The appeals court found Bakal guilty beyond reasonable doubt as an accessory to the crime and sentenced him to up to ten years in prison for each of the 57 counts of murder in the Ampatuan massacre case.

Associate Justices Rafael Antonio Santos and Carlito Calpatura concurred with the ruling.

Checkpoint cop

Bakal and ten other police officers manned a checkpoint along Ampatuan National Highway just across the Ampatuan Municipal Hall at the time of the massacre.

He was among dozens who were tried in the historic Ampatuan massacre trial, but QC Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes’ ruling did not indicate whether he was acquitted. He then sought the amendment of the consolidated partial decision to indicate this.

The Quezon City court later acquitted Bakal on reasonable doubt. It noted that the convoy carrying members of the Mangudadatu clan and members of the media, victims in the case, did not pass through the checkpoint that Bakal was manning.

The Office of the Solicitor General assailed Solis-Reyes’ Omnibus Order via a Petition for Certiorari. "Respondent judge acted with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction and deprived the state of due process when she acquitted private respondent SPO2 Bakal of the crime charged on fifty-seven counts," it said.

'Gross misapprehension of facts'

In resolving the OSG’s petition, the appeals court said that "[a] careful review of the evidence against Bakal that was made available for the Court’s perusal reveals that there has been a gross misapprehension of facts on the part of the RTC."

Article 19 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, defines an accessory as one who has knowledge of the commission of the crime, yet did not take part in its commission as principal or accomplice, it noted.

The CA pointed out that Bakal had knowledge of the crime, and had prevented a material eyewitness, Esmael Canapia, from disclosing what he had seen. That Bakal also threatened a crucial witness and prevented him from disclosing events effectively caused the latter to withhold the material facts that could have been used to identify principal perpetrators and made it more tedious for authorities to investigate, it also said.

"Further, SPO2 Bakal’s own admission that he would endanger his and his family’s life had he relayed his knowledge about the abduction of the Mangudadatus and their supporters, only leads to the inevitable conclusion that SPO2 Bakal was aware of the existence of the abduction and the massacre. He actually believed that to divulge any information of the heinous crime would put him and his family in danger," the ruling read.

It took three years for Canapia to execute his sworn statement, where the witness also testified that Bakal knew of the commission of the crime.

"From the foregoing, the Court is of the view that SPO2 Bakal’s actuations immediately after the commission of the crime demonstrate his liability as an accessory. The evidence adduced against him met the requisite quantum of proof of evidence of guilt as an accessory to the crime of murder, in 57 counts, beyond reasonable doubt," the CA said.

Double jeopardy, immutable judgments

The CA also explained that the petition filed by the OSG did not impinge on the right against double jeopardy — the Constitution provides that a person cannot not twice put in jeopardy for the same offense.

It noted that People and AAA v. Court of Appeals that a judgment of acquittal may be assailed through a certiorari petition under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court. “If there is grave abuse of discretion, granting petitioner’s prayer is not tantamount to putting private respondent in double jeopardy,” it added.

While the convoy did not pass the checkpoint Bakal was manning, the CA pointed out that there are other material facts about his culpability. The CA held that the Quezon City court’s disregard of Canapia’s testimony amounted to mistrial as it deemed it irrelevant Bakal’s knowledge of the commission of the crime and overt acts to conceal the principals.

It also noted that among the exceptions in the doctrine of finality or immutability of judgment is void judgments. In Imperial v. Armes, the Supreme Court extended the concept of void judgments to include when the tribunal acted in constituting grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of discretion.

“The respondent court’s blatant disregard of material evidence resulted in a violation of the People’s right to due process. It amounted to mistrial. Thus, the Omnibus Order, with respect to the acquittal of private respondent SPO2 Bakal, is but a void judgment,” the ruling read.

“It cannot be considered to have attained finality for the reason that a void judgment or order has no legality from its inception. It can be struck at anytime it rears its head,” the appeals court also said.



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