How some Ampatuans got away with murder, why others did not

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 20 2019 03:13 PM | Updated as of Dec 20 2019 03:44 PM

MANILA – Knowledge of a plot to kill a political rival and not acting on it spelled the difference in the fate of the Ampatuan brothers charged with the murder of 58 people in the brutal 2009 Maguindanao massacre, based on the ruling of the court which handled the case.

A Quezon City court on Thursday sentenced brothers Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and Anwar Ampatuan Sr. as well as Anwar’s sons Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan, Jr. and Anwar Sajid “Ulo” Ampatuan to reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years in prison for 57 counts of murder.

Meanwhile, Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan (Sajid) and Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr. (Akmad) were both acquitted due to reasonable doubt.

But if the Quezon City court found that all of them took part in meetings planning the killing of political rival Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, how did Sajid and Akmad get away with it?


In her 761-page decision, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes found that several meetings were held prior to the massacre on November 23, 2009.

As early as July 20, 2009, the late Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. met with Unsay, Zaldy, Sajid, Anwar Sr., Ipi, Ulo, Akmad and several others at the Century Park Hotel in Manila to discuss the plan to kill political rival Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. 

Mangudadatu, who was then vice mayor of Buluan town in Maguindanao, had challenged Unsay’s bid for provincial governor. Unsay was then mayor of Datu Unsay town.

“Ama, kung sinumang magtangkang umagaw sa kapangyarihan natin ay papatayin natin silang lahat, lalong-lalo na ang mga Mangudadatu na iyan,” witness Sukarno Badal quoted Unsay as saying during the meeting.

(Father, whoever attempts to wrest power from us, we’ll kill them all, especially the Mangudadatus.) 

Several other meetings followed with the Ampatuans having varying degrees of participation.

Zaldy, who was then governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, expressed support for the plan and was quoted, in a meeting the day before the incident, as saying he would be in Manila so as not to make his participation obvious. 

Anwar Sr., then Shariff Aguak mayor, suggested in a meeting on November 16, 2009 to kill the Mangudadatus and bury their vehicles, according to Badal.

Sajid, who was OIC Maguindanao governor, was silent in these meetings.


Unsay, together with Ipi and Ulo, went on to block the convoy of Mangudadatu’s wife, relatives and supporters together with 32 journalists. 

According to the court’s factual findings, Unsay himself led his men in shooting the victims in 5 batches on a hilly portion in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao. 

When the 6th and 7th group of victims refused to get off their vehicles, they were killed inside.

The court also found that Ipi and Ulo had a contest as to the most number of victims killed and that Unsay ordered the victims to be buried at a shallow grave using a backhoe.

“Their acts were deliberate and obviously in pursuance of their plan to kill Datu Toto or whoever will file his Certificate of Candidacy. Said accused were positively identified and seen by witnesses to have actually participated in the shooting of the 57 innocent victims,” the court said, classifying them in the first of 6 classifications of accused in the Maguindanao massacre case – those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot and who fired at the victims.

The other classifications were:

  •  Those who knew of the plot and did acts outside the crime scene
  •  Those who knew but did not do anything
  •  Those who did not know but participated in the killings
  •  Those who did not know but did acts outside the crime scene
  •  Those who did not know and did not do anything


Unlike Unsay, Ipi and Ulo, the other Ampatuans were not in the crime scene.

But in convicting Zaldy and Anwar Sr. while acquitting Sajid and Akmad, the court used Zaldy’s and Anwar Sr.’s own words and actions to show they conspired with Unsay.

In the meetings, Zaldy not only showed support, he also offered his firearms, the court said.

“Todo suporta ako diyan, kahit lahat ng baril ko gagamitin niyo. Kailangan malinis ang pagkakatrabaho kasi kapag nagkataon makukulong tayong lahat,” witness Badal heard Zaldy as saying in a November 16, 2009 meeting.

(I fully support that. You can use all my firearms. It has to be clean, otherwise we’ll all go to jail.)

“Considering the attendance of the accused and his utterances during the subject meetings, the court finds that based on the evidence presented, there are clear, strong, and convincing pieces of evidence, which tend to exclude all reasonable probability of any other conclusion that the accused was deeply involved in the planning of the crimes,” the court said.

It also took Anwar Sr. to task for his suggestion to kill the Mangudadatus and bury their vehicles, saying this was one of the moving factors which emboldened Unsay to carry out his plan.

“[S]aid suggestion was actually carried out to the letter when accused Bong Andal was asked to operate the backhoe to dig a hole and bury the lifeless bodies of the victims together with their vehicles,” the court explained.

The court also noted that Anwar Sr. helped Unsay and others escape immediately after the killings.

“This signifies oneness and unity with his brothers in committing the crimes charged,” it said.


In contrast, Sajid’s silence during the meetings proved crucial for the court.

“His presence in the abovementioned meetings without uttering any words of encouragement that served to embolden and influence his brothers to carry out their plan so as to make him liable as a conspirator is wanting,” the court said, using the same reasoning for granting Sajid bail in 2015.

And although a witness heard Sajid discussing how to save the backhoe after the killings took place, the court did not consider this as an “overt act indicative of conspiracy.”

The decision did not, however, discuss the implication of its factual finding that Sajid helped prepare an affidavit to explain the presence of the backhoe in Sitio Masalay.

The court also acquitted Akmad even if he was proven to have expressed approval to the plan to kill Mangudadatu. 

“The fact that he uttered the following at the meeting, thus: ‘pakinggan natin si Ama. Okay kami lahat na patayin sila’ (Let’s listen to father. It’s alright with us to kill them.) and ‘mabuti nga sa mga Mangudadatu na mahilig mag ambisyon na patayin sila lahat’ (It’s good for the Mangudadatus who are ambitious to kill all of them.) does not necessarily mean that he pushed for the commission of the crime which prima facie may suffice to find a strong evidence of guilt,” it said. 

“However, his having attended a medical mission for the whole day in collaboration with Smart Network International, Inc. at the Municipal gymnasium near the municipal hall of Mamasapano on November 23, 2009 will show that he did not cling to the agreed plot to kill. There is no clear and convincing evidence that will show that accused had committed an overt act in furtherance of the agreed plan,” it explained.

Based on cases previously decided by the Supreme Court, for a conspirator to exempt himself from criminal liability, “he must have performed an overt act to dissociate or detach himself from the conspiracy to commit the felony and prevent the commission thereof.”

In acquitting him, the court gave Akmad the benefit it did not give the other Ampatuans – accepting his alibi. 

Zaldy and Anwar Sr. both claimed they were somewhere else when the incident happened but were still convicted.

But Akmad’s presence at a medical mission in a nearby town was taken not only as proof he was not present in the crime scene but also that he desisted from being part of what is now known as the brutal Maguindanao massacre.