Principal accused found guilty in Ampatuan massacre case

Text by Hiraya N. Mance and Luisa Angela S. Sandoval

After a decade-long run of the Ampatuan massacre case, members of the Ampatuan clan Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy “Puti” Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan Jr. and Anwar Sajid “Ulo” Ampatuan are found guilty of 57 counts of murder beyond reasonable doubt.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 handed down the long-awaited decision, convicting the Ampatuans responsible for the Nov. 23, 2009 slaughter of 58 people, 32 of whom were media workers. 

The 23 others who are found guilty as principal actors face a maximum of 40 years behind bars for each count of murder. The Revised Penal Code provides that when convicts have to serve more than two sentences, they will do so simultaneously. 

Meanwhile, the 15 accused as “accessories” to the massacre were convicted guilty and were sentenced to a minimum of six years imprisonment and a maximum of 10 years and eight months.

The Quezon City RTC, meanwhile, acquitted Sajid Islam Ampatuan, Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan and other police officers due to reasonable doubt while three others were acquitted as the prosecution failed to prove their guilt.

Sajid Islam Ampatuan, who ditched the court proceedings, has been issued a warrant of arrest with five days to explain his absence during the arraignment. If not, he will be “cited in contempt,” Judge Solis-Reyes said. 

Legal counsels of Datu Andal Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan said they will file motions for reconsideration after the verdict.

After a decade of waiting and numerous extensions in what many saw as delayed justice for the victims, trial proceedings in Camp Bagong Diwa began more than an hour later than scheduled as it was supposed to begin at 9 a.m.

Of the 197 originally accused, 80 still remain at large including 15 members of the Ampatuan clan.

Zaldy Ampatuan was hospitalized last October, but was ordered by Judge Solis-Reyes to return to Camp Bagong Diwa ahead of the arraignment, since the “procedure during rehabilitation session can be done to him as an out-patient.”

The Ampatuan patriarch Datu Andal Sr., who allegedly ordered the massacre, died  2015 of liver cancer. 

The decade awaiting the decision witnessed annual commemorations and protests launched by media-related organizations such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines to call for justice for the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre.

A total of 58 people were killed in the said massacre but only 57 counts of murder were filed as one body remains missing.

The unfound body belongs to photojournalist Reynaldo Momay whose dentures were only found in the crime scene. Judge Solis-Reyes acquitted all the suspects for the murder of Momay on reasonable doubt, and the claims for the damages of the heirs of Momay were dismissed.

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