MANILA (UPDATE) - A police officer who was initially left out on the list of those acquitted in the Maguindanao massacre ruling has now been convicted by the Court of Appeals.
In a decision released Monday, the CA Special Sixth Division said Quezon City Regional Trial Court 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes committed grave abuse of discretion in grossly misappreciating the facts that led to SPO2 Badawi Bakal’s acquittal through an order.
The name Bakal was not included in the names of those convicted and acquitted in the 2019 Maguindanao massacre ruling.
Instead, the name of another accused, Police Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong, appeared both on the list of those convicted and sentenced to reclusion perpetua (40 years in prison), as well as of those acquitted.
Bakal sought clarification while Kamaong asked to be released.
Solis-Reyes, in a March 11, 2020 omnibus order, denied Kamaong’s motion for immediate release, clarifying that he was convicted and that it was in fact Bakal who should have been indicated as among those acquitted.
The court said Bakal only manned a checkpoint through which the Mangudadatu convoy never passed through.
That convoy of 58 people, including 32 journalists, was ambushed by armed men led by Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. in November 2009.
Bodies of 57 people, including the wife and 2 sisters of then-gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu, were found riddled with bullets, mutilated and buried in a shallow mass grave.
On Dec. 19, 2019, members of the Ampatuan clan led by brothers Zaldy and Unsay and several others were sentenced to up to 40 years in prison with no parole over the grisly murders, according to the verdict.
But the omnibus order of Solis-Reyes, which clarified the historic ruling, was questioned by the Office of the Solicitor General before the Court of Appeals.
"The Solicitor General asserts that the totality of the circumstances led to the inevitable conclusion that SPO2 Bakal is criminally liable as an accessory to the crime charged because of his overt acts subsequent to the commission of the crime," the court document read.
In a decision released Monday, Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr. said Solis-Reyes committed grave abuse of discretion in grossly misappreciating the facts.
The CA said the facts showed Bakal had knowledge of the crime since he concealed the identities of the accused, failed to effect or cause their immediate arrest, and contributed to the delay in the investigation of the crime by threatening a witness.
“The respondent court limited its attention to certain facts, which it utilized to justify its inadvertence in mistakenly ruling to acquit some accused; e.g., PSupt. Bahnarin Kamaong, whom it explained ought not to be acquitted as it was SPO2 Bakal whom it meant to acquit, instead of the totality of the evidence that included material and relevant factual events that transpired immediately after the commission of the crime or during its investigation,” it said.
The CA found Bakal guilty as accessory and sentenced him to jail time of between 4 years and 2 months to up to 10 years for each of the 57 counts of murder.
The CA said this was an exception to the finality-of-acquittal rule and did not violate rule against double jeopardy since there was grave abuse of discretion which violated the prosecution’s right to due process.
“The respondent court's blatant disregard of material evidence resulted in a violation of the People's right to due process. It amounted to a mistrial,” it said.
“Thus, the Omnibus Order, with respect to the acquittal of private respondent SPO2 Bakal, is but a void judgment. 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,” it added.
The Maguindanao massacre is considered the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history and the single deadliest incident for journalists in the world.
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