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Court convicts Ampatuans, others for Maguindanao massacre

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The brains behind the worst election-related violence and deadliest attack against the press in the country were found guilty for 57 counts of murder –more than 10 years after the gruesome killing of 58 people, including 32 media practitioners, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, presiding judge of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 meted out reclusion perpetua or up to 40 years imprisonment without parole to 27 individuals, including several members of the powerful Ampatuan clan tagged as masterminds behind the massacre.

Among those found guilty were Andal Ampatuan Jr., alias Datu Unsay, tagged as the one who led about 200 armed men in committing the gruesome killing in the outskirts of Ampatuan town on 23 November 2009; his brothers Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr.

Other members of the Ampatuan clan who were found guilty were Anwar “Ipi” Ampatuan Jr., Anwar Sajid “Ulo” Ampatuan, Manny Ampatuan, Mohades Ampatuan and Misuari Ampatuan.

The clan’s patriarch Andal Sr., who was then the governor of Maguindanao, was also among the accused but he died of liver cancer while in detention in 2015.

Several police officials, led by Superintendents Abusama Mundas Maguid and Bahnarin Kamaong, were slapped with the capital punishment for their involvement in the gruesome killing.

However, the court acquitted four Ampatuans — Akmad alias “Tato,” Sajid Islam, Jonathan, Jimmy— along with dozens of other individuals on the ground that their guilt was not proven beyond reasonable doubt. Three others were acquitted for the prosecution’s “absolute” failure to prove their guilt.

Reyes ordered the seven released from jail unless they are being detained for other lawful causes.

In her 761-page decision, the judge also ordered the principal accused to pay millions of pesos to the heirs of each of the victims — except that of photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, the 58th massacre victim whose body was never found.

The court acquitted all the accused over Momay’s death due to reasonable doubt and dismissed his family’s claim for damages.

For his part, lawyer Harry Roque Jr., who represents the family of Momay, vowed he will file a notice of appeal in connection with the dismissal of the family’s claim to damages.

Momay was the 58th massacre victim but the court acquitted all the accused in the case relating to his death due to reasonable doubt.

Overall. Roque expressed satisfaction over the ruling.

“This is a big victory for the victims, there is now a closure,” Roque declared, adding “the fight is not over” as he noted the acquittal of some of the accused.

Reyes’ decision marks the conclusion at the trial court level of the 10-year-old case involving a total of 197 respondents, 357 witnesses and a total of 424 trial days.

The conviction, however, is appealable all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The gruesome killing happened in broad daylight when the wife, sisters, relatives and supporters of then Bulusan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for the 2010 Maguindanao gubernatorial race.

The victims’ convoy was intercepted along the road and herded in the outskirt of Ampatuan town by about 200 armed men, led by Datu Unsay, where they were killed in cold blood and buried in a mass grave dug by a backhoe owned by the provincial government.

Mangudadatu eventually won as governor and is now a representative of the province.

Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) has intensified its pursuit against the Ampatuan massacre suspects who are still at large, Camp Crame announced on Thursday.

“Eighty more accused in the celebrated 2009 mass murder are yet to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of the court throughout the entire trial of the case,” PLt. Gen. Archie Gamboa, PNP officer-in-charge, said in a statement.

“Considering the nature of their crime and their continued flight from justice, we presume these fugitives to be armed and dangerous,” he added.

Gamboa likewise disclosed that he has also directed the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, Intelligence Group, and the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) police to launch massive manhunt operations for the 80 fugitives, including accused dismissed Inspector Michael Joy Ines Macaraeg who did not appear during the promulgation of decision.

Reyes has already issued a warrant for Macaraeg’s arrest.

The BARMM police, meanwhile, said it is continuously monitoring the activities of known supporters and followers of the Ampatuans in Maguinandao. (With Kristina Maralit)

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