Palace laments 'injustice' on 56 acquitted in Maguindanao massacre, cites 'serious flaws' in justice system

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 21 2019 10:00 AM

MANILA - Malacañang on Saturday lamented what it described as "injustice" against 56 people charged and held for the Maguindanao massacre but were acquitted when the court handed down its verdict Thursday.

In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo cited how those acquitted had wasted years detained while on trial for the 2009 massacre of 58 people in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

Panelo once served as defense counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. of the powerful Ampatuan political clan convicted with 42 others for the slaughter of supporters of a rival politician and 32 journalists.

"While the rule of law has prevailed following [the] promulgation by the trial court on the case of the Maguindanao massacre, the Palace notes that there are serious flaws in our justice system long existing and must be rectified, if we are to be fealty to the rule of law and due process as enshrined in our Constitution," said Panelo.

He said that while efforts of state prosecutors were commendable, it showed how the "hasty" filing of charges against those eventually acquitted had cost them productive years in their lives.

Most of those acquitted were police officers.

"An analysis of the court’s judgment shows that 10 years of what could have been productive lives of 56 acquitted accused have been wasted in incarceration, and necessarily their families have since become dysfunctional, with their wives and their children bearing the brunt of the stigma and the humiliation that come with it, scarring them for the rest of their lives," he said.

"This is an injustice that cannot be countenanced nor continue. It must not find print ever again in the pages of our history as a nation," he added.

Reflecting his years spent in litigation, Panelo described as an "aberration" the indictment of suspects on flimsy evidence.

"The hasty and heedless filing of an information is due either to the faulty appreciation of evidence by - or the fear of - the investigating prosecutor to be subjected to an administrative sanction or get a reprisal from the complainant if the case is dismissed at the preliminary investigation stage," he said.

Panelo said there were "hundreds of similar pending cases," where suspects are detained for years only to be acquitted later. He also cited wasted government resources in futile litigation.

"Aside from throwing away productive years of those accused who were pronounced not guilty, government resources, including man-hours and effort, have gone to waste. This is one lesson we must all learn lest we repeat the same grievous error at the cost of liberty and honor of the innocents," Panelo said.

On Thursday, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes found 43 accused in the massacre, including several members of the Ampatuan clan, guilty of 57 counts of murder.

The ruling did not cover the 58th victim, Reynaldo Momay, as his body has not been found to this day. It denied the Momay family's claim for civil damages.

The court also acquitted 56 accused, mostly police officers, who were released a day after the promulgation of judgment.