MANILA – For failure to stop and report an abduction incident that could have saved the lives of those killed in the Maguindanao massacre, 14 cops are facing up to 10 years and 8 months jail time.
This was the ruling handed down by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes Thursday, as she convicted 5 prominent Ampatuan members, 5 police officers and 18 police auxiliaries for the murder of 57 people in 2009 and sentenced them to up to 40 years in prison.
The 14 cops are among the 15 whom the court convicted as accessories, or those who, without being part of a conspiracy, help conceal a crime or allow the perpetrators to escape.
These 14 cops are:
-P/Insp. Michael Joy Macaraeg
-PO3 Felix Eñate
-PO3 Abibudin Abdulgani
-PO3 Rasid Anton
-PO2 Hamad Nana
-PO2 Saudi Pasutan
-PO2 Saudiar Ulah
-PO1 Esprielito Lejarso
-PO1 Narkouk Mascud
-PO1 Pia Kamidon
-PO1 Esmael Guialal
-PO1 Arnulfo Soriano
-PO1 Herich Amaba
-P/SInsp. Abdulgapor Abad
Except for Abad, these cops were stationed near a checkpoint at Malating in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009 when suspect Datu Kanor Ampatuan, upon orders of convicted murderer Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., stopped a convoy on their way to Shariff Aguak to file the Certificate of Candidacy of then-gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
Datu Kanor, who remains at large to this day, ordered the passengers to alight from their vehicles while waiting for Unsay to arrive. The court found the victims were physically hurt at this point.
The group eventually left for Sitio Masalay where the victims – the wife, 2 sisters, lawyers and supporters of Mangudadatu and 32 journalists – were executed and buried in shallow graves.
The cops said they were not able to do anything to stop the abduction out of “fear for their lives” claiming that high-powered firearms were pointed at them.
But the court rejected their defense.
“Surely, while the firearms of the men of Datu Kanor were pointed at them, their lives were in danger. Thus, it is understandable that the instinct of self-preservation will set in. However, as police officers, they are not only mandated to maintain peace and order but ensure public safety as well,” it said.
“Hence, as soon as Datu Kanor and his armed men had already left Malating checkpoint, and danger to their lives were no longer present, they were duty bound to immediately report said incident to their higher officials so that appropriate action can be made which could have saved the lives of the victims,” it added.
Two of these higher officials, however, – then-Maguindanao provincial director P/Supt. Abusama Maguid and his deputy P/CInsp. Sukardo Dicay – were both found guilty of murder along with some Ampatuan family members.
For the same reason, the court held Abad liable as accessory because he was seen in the company of another convicted murderer P/Insp. Saudi Mokamad who kept on coming back and forth at the Malating checkpoint.
“[W]ell knowing that an abduction incident had already occurred, and yet, he failed to report the same, he should likewise be made liable as an accessory under par. 3 of Article 19, of the Revised Penal Code,” the court ruled.
Article 19 of the Revised Penal Code penalizes accessories who are public officers who harbor, conceal or assist in the escape of principal, for as long as they did not conspire with the principal accused.
The cops’ conviction as accessories underscores the liability of police officers who do nothing to stop criminal acts committed by powerful politicians.
But what differentiated their acts from 5 police officers found guilty of 57 counts of murder and the 34 others acquitted of the same charge?
The 34 acquitted, according to the court, had no prior knowledge of the murder plot and were not identified to be in the crime scene.
The Labayan Group and Solano Group of cops, the court said, were manning checkpoints in Sitio Binibiran and Sitio Masalay.
“While admittedly, the convoy of Datu Toto had passed their checkpoints, it is unrefuted that they were not aware who were the passengers of the convoy, they having been abducted at Malating checkpoint,” it said.
“It stands to reason therefore, that while they may have heard the burst of gunfires after said convoy had passed, their failure to report the same or respond thereto, should not be taken against them, given that burst of gunfires is considered a normal occurrence in their place, the peace and order situation being one of the major problems therein since time immemorial,” it explained.
In contrast, 2 of the 5 cops liable for murder – Mokamad and PO1 Jonathan Engid – were identified by several witnesses as knowledgeable of the murder plot and had participated in the actual killing of the victims, making them principals by direct participation along with Unsay.
Maguid, Dicay and P/Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong, on the other hand, also had prior knowledge of the murder plot but performed acts outside of Sitio Masalay.
Witness Sukarno Badal said he saw Dicay attend 2 meetings before the massacre and on the day itself, he was seen at the Malating checkpoint instructing a police auxiliary to burn all the evidence. The court also found he sought to cover up the incident by instructing witnesses to lie and by lying to members of the military who responded to the incident.
Like Dicay, Maguid was also seen at the Malating checkpoint after the abduction instructing police auxiliaries to say there was a false alarm of a bomb threat to mislead investigators and ordering them to burn all the evidence left by the victims. He was also seen with Unsay upon descending from the hilly portion of Sitio Masalay.
Kamaong was found to have directed police officers to bring out the firearms used in the massacre.
But in a later portion of the decision, another Bahnarin Kamaong, this time with a rank of police inspector, was acquitted supposedly because his only participation was having manned a checkpoint at the Ampatuan municipal police station.
Prosecutors are still trying to clarify the ruling of Judge Solis-Reyes.
Aside from Kamaong’s case, they also intend to ask the court why PO1 Ysmael Baraquir was among those acquitted when he is still at large.
Four others -- SPO2 George Labayan, SPO2 Badawi Bakal, PO1 Abdulbayan Mundas and Ramil Akil -- did not receive any verdict.
In the discussion of the court’s ruling, however, Labayan was included in the list of those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot and who were not identified in the crime scene, which the court declared to be “totally innocent” of the crime.
But the discussion was silent with respect to the actions of Bakal, Mundas and Akil.