QUEZON CITY (UPDATE) - A Quezon City court has junked the bid of Maguindanao massacre prime suspect Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. to re-open the trial into the gruesome murder of 58 people nearly 10 years ago, paving the way for a possible decision on the case in November.
In an order dated October 25, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes denied for lack of merit Datu Unsay’s motion to re-open trial with motion to suspend period to set the promulgation of judgment.
Based on court records, the Maguindanao massacre case has been submitted for decision as of August 22 this year and the court has 90 days or until November 20 to come out with a verdict, just a few days before the massacre’s 10th anniversary on November 23.
But Datu Unsay, through his lawyer Paul Laguatan, filed a motion on October 14 claiming that the prosecution’s primary witness, former Vice Mayor Sukarno Badal, had supposedly approached their camp through a representative to recant his testimony.
Badal, who admitted to being one of the commanders of the Ampatuan family’s private armed group, testified that he attended a meeting where Datu Unsay, his father the late Andal Ampatuan, Sr., his brother former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, and other Ampatuan leaders, advisers, lawyers and commanders of their armed group supposedly met to plot the killing of former Maguindanao governor and now House Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
Mangudadatu was then planning to challenge Datu Unsay for ARMM governor. He asked his wife, some relatives, and his lawyers, with 32 members of the media, to file his certificate of candidacy on November 23, 2009, but a hundred armed men stopped their convoy.
Badal claimed Datu Unsay himself led the armed group and brought the convoy to a hilly area where they were shot, killed and buried.
Authorities later found shallow mass graves with backhoes still in the area.
Badal testified 11 times on various dates in 2013, 2014 and 2017, and his testimony was part of the basis for the court’s denial of Datu Unsay’s bail plea and his move to dismiss the case on account of insufficiency of evidence.
In his motion, Datu Unsay said Badal told his camp his statements were not true and he supposedly expressed willingness to tell the truth.
But the prosecution presented Badal in open court on October 17 where he denied Datu Unsay’s claim.
“There is no truth to the statement in the Motion, they are all made up by the accused Unsay to delay the case,” he said.
Laguatan did not cross-examine Badal.
Badal told ABS-CBN News after the hearing he will never withdraw his testimony.
“Kahit ito ang dahilan ng kamatayan ko, hindi ko ito iuurong. Kung ano nasabi ko sa testimony ko, yun na ‘yun. Mamatay na kung mamatay ako, hindi ko talaga baliktarin yung Maguindanao massacre. Wala akong plano na ganun,” he said.
“Bago ako sumuko, dinesisyunan ko ang sarili ko, kahit anong mangyari, yun na ‘yun kahit anong mangyari,” he added.
“With the denial made by the prosecution witness Sukarno Badal of his intention to recant his previous testimony given on several dates, it is crystal clear that the ground relied upon by the accused-movant for the reopening of trial has no leg to stand on,” the court’s order said.
Datu Unsay was supposed to submit a memorandum in August but his lawyer, Fortun and Santos Law Offices, instead withdrew from the case citing personal reasons.
Datu Unsay’s new lawyer Laguatan – his fifth since the start of the trial – was given 15 days to file the memorandum but instead filed a motion to re-open trial.
On Friday, Datu Unsay filed a motion to admit memorandum, attaching the memorandum with the summary of his evidence and arguments.
The trial court gave the prosecution 5 days to comment on Datu Unsay’s new motion.
The Maguindanao massacre gained international notoriety with 32 journalists killed in a single incident, dubbed by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists as the single deadliest event for journalists in history.
In a statement, lawyer Gilbert Andres, who represents some of the journalist-victims, welcomed the ruling.
“We feel relieved that Unsay's motion to re-open trial was denied by the Court,” he said.
“The Trial Court can now continue to focus on deciding the consolidated criminal cases, which our clients have long been awaiting. It is our clients' desire that judgment be promulgated in time for the 10th year commemoration of the Maguindanao massacre,” he added.