MANILA — Nearly all of the defendants acquitted in the Maguindanao massacre case walked free on Friday, a day after a special court absolved them in the decade-old case.
The 56 defendants acquitted in the Nov. 23, 2009 slaughter were mostly policemen assigned in the province of Maguindanao, several alleged members of the Ampatuan family's militia, and 2 leaders of the clan accused of orchestrating the crime to stop a challenge to their rule in the province.
Forty of the 46 acquitted defendants in custody were released from police camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig on Friday morning, said Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Spokesperson Chief Insp. Xavier Solda.
Of the remaining 6 defendants, 2 were expected to be released later Friday after court verification while 4 would remain in jail due to separate pending cases, he said.
The guilt of those acquitted could not be proven "beyond reasonable doubt," according to Manila regional trial court judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes' 761-page verdict.
The 2 acquitted Ampatuan clan members were Datu Akmad Ampatuan and Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, who was out on bail.
The "not guilty" finding bars any appeal on the criminal aspect as it would amount to double jeopardy, a constitutional right preventing an accused from being tried again for the same or similar charge following an acquittal or conviction.
Sajid Ampatuan, who allegedly participated in the crime's planning and attempted cover-up, could still face a civil suit seeking damages, said lawyer Nena Santos who represents the families of 38 of the 58 victims.
The acquitted policemen, meanwhile, have to apply for reinstatement to government service and undergo review, said national police spokesperson Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac.
With a report from Zhander Cayabyab, ABS-CBN News