Ampatuan brothers, several others found guilty in Maguindano massacre

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2019 11:40 AM | Updated as of Dec 20 2019 01:14 AM

Some of the accused in the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre are seen attending the promulgation of the case, inside a prison facility in Taguig City, Philippines, in this Dec. 19, 2019 handout picture. Supreme Court of the Philippines - Public Information Office/handout via Reuters

MANILA (UPDATE) - Members of the Ampatuan clan and several others were found guilty of multiple murder in the Maguindanao massacre, considered the worst political violence in the Philippines, based on the trial court's verdict on Thursday. 

Brothers Zaldy and Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. were sentenced to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison without parole, according to the 761-page ruling, which was partially read in court. 

Another Ampatuan brother, Sajid, who is mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, was acquitted.

Unsay Ampatuan allegedly led the private army that stopped and massacred the convoy of supporters of a rival politician, Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, with the approval of his father and co-accused, Andal Ampatuan Sr., who also faced trial but died in 2015 before the verdict was handed down.

Fifty-eight people were killed, including 32 journalists. Some were reportedly shot in the genitals and their bodies were buried in a mass grave using an excavator.

Before the verdict was read, Mangudadatu, who lost his wife, 2 sisters and 12 other relatives in the massacre, said he was expecting a "100 percent guilty verdict."

"Gusto ko nga talagang bitay, lalo na 'yang si Unsay, pati magkakapatid, dahil talagang grabe ginagawa nila," he said.

(I want nothing less than the death penalty, especially for Unsay and his brothers, for their grave crime.)

Mangudadatu said the fight was not yet over after the verdict since the Ampatuans could appeal the ruling and the family is on a political resurgence. 

The verdict will be a "big step" towards ending the culture of impunity in the Philippines, though more needs to be done, said University of the Philippines law professor Theodore Te before the ruling.

"It has to be a consistent pattern of being able to apprehend those who have committed crimes or felonies, being able to try them, being able to convict them, and being able to have the sentence executed," he said.

Thursday's ruling is a culmination of 10 years of court proceedings, during which case files reached 238 folders- testament to the long road it took for victims to attain justice. 

It also closes what is considered the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history and single deadliest incident for journalists in the world. 

The 2009 massacre had sent shockwaves around the world in its wake. The victims, many of whom were women, were mauled- slapped, punched and hit- and then shot execution style. Their bodies were then dumped into a shallow grave on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

The international community condemned the slays, with the United Nations calling it a heinous crime and then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney describing the act as "barbaric." 

Groups both local and global have been keeping watch of court proceedings, many scoring delayed justice for the victims. 

Some 197 were charged, but some 80 others remain at large. On Thursday's sentencing, a total of 43 were convicted while 56 were acquitted.