MANILA — The lawyer of some of the Maguindanao massacre victims' families slammed the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday for absolving 40 of the 48 suspects in the second complaint filed over the brutal killing 11 years ago of 57 persons, which also resulted in a missing photographer.
Atty. Nena Santos, in an online forum marking the 11th anniversary of the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history and single deadliest incident for journalists in the world, revealed that DOJ prosecutors have decided to indict 8 more suspects but absolved 40 others, in a resolution dated Aug. 28, 2019 but which was only released in September this year and received on October 27.
Indicted were Datu Moning Ampatuan Asim, Datu Harris Ampatuan Macapendeng, Dali Kamendan alias Kumander Boy, Mautin Upam, Rene Upam, Datu Diego “Digo” Mamalapat, Daud Kamendan alias Kumander Kuatro and a policeman identified only as “Biton.”
According to the resolution, these men, except for Biton, allegedly attended meetings planning the killings and took part in the shooting of the victims on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao's Ampatuan town. Six of them did not submit counteraffidavits, while prosecutors rejected Mamalapat’s alibi that he was somewhere else when the massacre occurred.
And while Biton was not present during the planning, prosecutors found he led his men to block the victims' convoy in accordance with Datu Unsay Ampatuan’s order, “making his participation indispensable.”
Datu Unsay and 27 others, including his brothers Zaldy and Anwar Ampatuan, Sr. were found guilty of 57 counts of murder by a Quezon City court in December last year and were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison.
The same court found 15 more acted as accessories who were sentenced to 6 to 10 years and 8 months in jail.
The other fifty-six on trial were acquitted.
Since the conviction, 4 more suspects were arrested while 76 remain at large.
The Ampatuan clan masterminded the massacre of the convoy of supporters of rival politician Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu on their way to file the latter's certificate of candidacy (COC), challenging Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. for the 2010 Maguindanao gubernatorial race.
Mangudadatu, now a Maguindanao Representative in the lower chamber of Congress, was not part of the traveling party, which included his wife, 2 sisters, 12 other relatives, as well as 32 journalists who were to cover the COC filing in Shariff Aguak town.
WHY DOJ ABSOLVED 40 RESPONDENTS
In the August 2019 resolution, DOJ prosecutors said there was no probable cause to charge the 40 other respondents, which included former Ampatuan lawyer and now Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani Sayadi, several more Ampatuans and others who may have attended the meetings but did not take part in the killings.
They also absolved those who were seen in the crime scene but were supposedly not shown to have conspired in the killings.
“[M]ere presence at the scene of the crime does not automatically make one liable for it, much less presence in the place or meeting where the crime was allegedly planned. Even so, none of the complainants and their witnesses mentioned any active participation committed by these respondents; thus, a finding of probable cause must fail,” read the resolution.
Santos has moved for partial reconsideration of the DOJ resolution, arguing that there was implied conspiracy in the actions of the absolved respondents.
She said that those who stood guard, lent moral support or did nothing to prevent crime can be held criminally responsible, while the denial of some of the respondents is “inherently a weak defense.”
In her motion, Santos singled out Guiani Sayadi’s actions.
“[H]er legal knowledge, and the fact that a lawyer, the very best person who can and would legally protect her co-conspirators from criminal liability, is present at the meetings, undoubtedly and indubitably, emboldened, reassured and encouraged her co-conspirators into proceeding in the commission of the multiple murders,” Santos said.
She also accused the lawyer of spearheading an attempted coverup involving the backhoe used to dig the shallow mass grave in Ampatuan's Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, where the bodies of the victims were buried.
There was no discussion, however, in the DOJ resolution about the alleged coverup.
Santos has asked for the inhibition of 3 of the 4 prosecutors who signed the DOJ resolution - assistant state prosecutors Josie Christina Dugay, Mary Jane Sytat and Jovyanne Santa Maria, citing alleged irregularity in the delayed release of the resolution.
She noted that for a complex case, the discussion dismissing the complaint against the 40 respondents was contained in only 3 pages.
She asked that a new panel be appointed to resolve her motion for partial reconsideration.
ABS-CBN News tried to reach out to the prosecutors but was told they have yet to receive a copy of the motion for inhibition.
During Monday's forum, Santos expressed lack of faith in the current DOJ, unlike, she said, during the time of former Justice secretaries Leila de Lima and Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa, who have gone on to become senator and Supreme Court associate justice, respectively.
“With the resolution of the second wave, parang feeling ko, hindi na natin kakampi. Parang pinagbigyan lang ako sa walo. Tapos, inalis yung 40. Ano ba yung 40 na yun? Eh sa testimony pa lang ng mga witnesses, pwede na sila ma-convict. Eh preliminary investigation, probable cause lang 'tong pinag-uusapan, bakit naman dinismiss agad?,” she said.
She also cited the presence in the Cabinet of Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, who had lawyered for the Ampatuans, and that even though Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque is also there, he no longer represents the Maguindanao massacre victims.
ELEVEN YEARS ON
It was 11 years ago on this day that the bodies of 57 victims, mostly journalists and women, were uncovered from a shallow mass grave on a hilly portion of Sitio Masalay.
Eleven years on, families of the victims are still crying for justice, particularly for photographer Reynaldo Bebot Momay, who was allegedly part of the convoy but who remains missing, with only his dentures recovered.
His family is appealing the ruling and so are the other families asking for higher damages.
Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 in July this year rejected the plea of various complainants for higher damages, except for one who was given twice the earning capacity he was earlier awarded.
Those convicted are also appealing their conviction before the Court of Appeals.