MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) - After handing down a ruling unfavorable to the father-in-law, now comes the same ruling for the son-in-law.
The Court of Appeals (CA), in a decision promulgated today, August 18, upheld the finding of probable cause against Datu Akmad Ampatuan, son-in-law of Ampatuan patriarch Andal Ampatuan, Sr., for multiple murder in connection with the gruesome Maguindanao massacre.
In a 37-page decision penned by Associate Justice Francisco Acosta, the appellate court's Sixteenth Division junked Ampatuan's petition for certiorari that sought to annul and set aside a Department of Justice (DOJ) resolution dated May 5, 2010 that reinstated him as respondent in criminal cases pertaining to the killing of 57 people, mostly journalists and female members of the Mangudadatu political clan, on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan town.
The decision also junked Ampatuan's plea for issuance of a temporary restraining order(TRO)
In its decision, the appellate court said it found no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the DOJ and that the issues raised by Ampatuan are "matters of defense" which should be passed upon by the trial court.
"It is easily seen that petitioner's allegations as regards the sufficiency of evidence against him are matters of defense and are beyond the province of certiorari. Certiorari as an extraordinary remedy, is not concerned with a review of facts and evaluation of evidence following the rule that if a court, body or tribunal erroneously decides a case, the same does not necessarily deprive of jurisdiction," the decision read.
The appellate court struck down Ampatuan's assertion that then Justice Secretary Alberto Agra committed grave abuse of discretion when he allowed additional evidence against petitioner on a motion for reconsideration by private complainants.
A DOJ panel found probable cause against Ampatuan in a resolution dated February 5, 2010 but Agra, in a resolution dated April 16, 2010, removed Ampatuan from the list of respondents on the basis of petitioner's evidence that he was not at or near the crime scene on the day of the carnage, was never mentioned by prosecution star witness Kenny Dalandag during an alleged Ampatuan clan meeting on November 22, 2009 to plan the murders, and was not named as respondent in the complaints filed by the National Bureau of Investigation(NBI) and the Philippine National Police(PNP)-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group(CIDG).
However, Ampatuan was reinstated in the list of respondents in the assailed DOJ resolution dated May 5, 2010.
In its ruling, the appellate court said that "the authority of the Secretary of Justice over prosecutors finds basis in his inherent power of control and supervision over his subordinates."
"The power of control therein contemplated means that the Secretary of Justice can set aside what a subordinate officer had done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former for that of the latter," the decision read.
"Thus, to hold that the Secretary of Justice is barred from considering an evidence which to petitioner's mind has been belatedly submitted, is to curtail the review powers of the Secretary of Justice and will thus only abbreviate his obligation to independently assess evidence presented to him."
The appellate court also stressed that preliminary investigation proceedings at the DOJ are "essentially administrative and not strictly judicial, and one that is performed by executive officials albeit exercising quasi-judicial functions."
The ruling also pointed out that prosecution witness Abdul Talusan's affidavit that placed Ampatuan at the planning of the massacre "is not strictly an 'additional' or 'new' evidence" since nothing in it "would have surprised petitioner or would have necessitated an overhaul of petitioner's defense."
As a final point, the appellate court said the Secretary of Justice weighs the relevance of any "new" or "additional" evidence in determining probable cause without remanding the case to the investigating prosecutors -- as posited by Ampatuan in his petition -- or ordering a new preliminary investigation.
"Evidence presented by complainants, taken as a whole, establishes probable cause to hold petitioner for trial"
In his petition, Ampatuan claimed no specific act was mentioned in the complaint to warrant his indictment.
However, the appellate court said that preliminary investigation proceedings are only intended to determine the existence, if any, of probable cause against respondents, and not prima facie evidence which already "requires a degree or quantum of proof greater than probable cause."
"We are reminded, time and again, that a prosecutor does not decider whether there is evidence beyond reasonable doubt of the guilt of the person charged.
"[A]t this point of the proceedings, petitioner's protest against the alleged lack of prima facie evidence against him is misplaced, if not premature," the decision read.
"To stress, the pieces of evidence and factual circumstances herein considered merely create probable cause against petitioner sufficient to engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and that petitioner is probably guilty thereof."
Petitioner's probable guilt sufficiently established
The appellate court stated that the following evidence entered by the prosecution was able to establish Ampatuan's probable guilt:
1) Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, in an affidavit, described petitioner as one of several members of the Ampatuan clan whom he had personally seen to be in possession of firearms which probably were part of a cache of firearms recovered at the Ampatuan compound in Sharif Aguak;
2) prosecution witness Nasser Abdul alleged that Ampatuan was among those who called for him in order to instruct him and several others to stage a rally at the house of Andal Sr. to "show support" for the embattled members of the clan who were being implicated in the mass murders; and
3) another prosecution witness, Takpan Manibpel Dilon, placed Ampatuan at the scene of the crime.
The appellate court stressed that even on the assumption that Ampatuan was not physically or positively identified on critical dates November 22 and November 23, 2009, the DOJ investigating panel "sufficiently explained the basis for including petitioner in the information filed."
"[P]iercing together the evidence on record will show the existence of conspiracy. Conspiracy is deemed to arise when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit the same... The confluence of events before and immediately after the commission of the offense leads us to no other inference than that respondents Andal U. Ampatuan, Sr., Datu Zaldy 'Puti' U. Ampatuan, Datu Akmad 'Tato' Ampatuan, Sr., Datu Norodin Ampatuan, and Datu Jimmy Ampatuan connived with the actual perpetrators," the investigating prosecutors, in their resolution, stated.
Mangudadatu happy with CA ruling
Governor Mangudadatu, who recently survived an assassination try, meantime told ABS-CBN News he was happy and thankful about the appellate court ruling.
"Nagpapasalamat ako sa Court of Appeals dahil ibinasura nila petition ni Akmad dahil alam mo naman na napakalakas ng ebidensya laban sa kanila," he said.
In February, the appellate court also junked a similar petition before the appellate court.
Mangudadatu lost his wife, Genalyn, two(2) sisters and other kin in the massacre touted as the worst election-related violence and the single deadliest attack on the freedom of the press and media in the history of the country.
Fifty-seven people were brutally killed in the massacre, most of them part of a convoy bound for Sharif Aguak where the Mangudadatus were to file Esmael Mangudadatu's certificate of candidacy(COC) for governor.
Criminal cases against 196 persons accused are pending before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) which has been designated as a special court for the Maguindanao massacre cases by the Supreme Court.