MANILA — Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the primary accused in the Maguindanao massacre, was brought back to jail from hospital on Wednesday, the eve of a Quezon City court's ruling on his fate and that of some 100 others accused in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
Ampatuan, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, was returned to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, past 2 p.m.
He had been initially brought to the Taguig Pateros District Hospital on Oct. 21, when he suffered a stroke, then moved to the Makati Medical Center. From there, he was transferred back to jail on Wednesday.
On Nov. 23, 2009, the "private army" of the Ampatuans allegedly blocked a convoy of mostly female supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, who were on their way to register his candidacy for governor, challenging one of the Ampatuans.
Some 100 armed men mauled 58 people, including 32 journalists, and then killed them execution style. They were buried in a shallow grave on a hill in Ampatuan town.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, designated as a special court to handle the case, is expected to hand down verdicts for 101 defendants in custody.
The trial was earlier marred by allegations of bribery, defense delays, the murder of several witnesses and fear that the still powerful accused could be acquitted.
A guilty verdict "will be a strong signal to human rights abusers that they can't always get away with murder," HRW researcher Carlos Conde earlier said.
"A not guilty verdict would be catastrophic for the cause of human rights and justice," he said, adding acquittal would signal to warlords "that it's business as usual, that they can continue using violence, intimidation and corruption to rule their communities," he added.
Even routine court cases can take years to make it through the Philippine justice system, which is notoriously overburdened, underfunded and vulnerable to pressure from the powerful.
"We are hoping and praying that we will get a fair judgement," said Mary Grace Morales, whose sister and husband were among 32 journalists killed.
"They (Ampatuans) have power... they have money," she told Agence France-Presse. "They can pay many lawyers to handle their cases."
The Ampatuans won 25 local seats in the May midterm elections including Sajid Ampatuan, a defendant in the massacre case who was released on bail.
The 101 defendants, who have pleaded not guilty, face up to 30 years in prison without parole if convicted of even one of the 58 murders, lawyers representing many of the victims' families said.
— With reports from Bianca Dava, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse