AMPATUAN MASSACRE, 8 YEARS LATER | 197 accused, 115 arrested, 103 on trial

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Detail from exhumation scene at the massacre site. NONOY ESPINA, News5 | InterAksyon

MANILA – Even as the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) said justice remains elusive in the case of the November 23, 2009 massacre that took the lives of 58 persons, including 32 media workers, the trial of the accused – seen as one of the most convoluted with so many victims and accused – plods on.

The massacre happened on a hilltop in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. There, gunmen perpetrated the worst incident of electoral violence in recent Philippine history and the deadliest single attack on the press ever.

Ampatuan_Massacre_exhumation_scene_NONOY_ESPINA
Police line at the exhumation of the remains of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre. NONOY ESPINA/News5 | InterAksyon

A summary update as of this Tuesday, November 21, from the Supreme Court Public Information Office regarding the case People of the Philippines versus Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. et al. Q-09-162148-72, Q-09-162216-31, Q-10-162652-66, Q-10-163766, GL-Q-12-178638 underscores the following points:

These murder cases account for 58 victims (out of the 58 victims, 32 were alleged to be media practitioners), originally involving 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuans), with 115 already arrested (latest accused arrested is Jonathan Engid on February 28, 2017), including one whose cases were dismissed as against him for lack of probable cause.

1. One already dropped from the (Amended) Informations by virtue of a Joint Order dated February 13, 2013 and Order dated November 5, 2013,

2. Two discharged as state witnesses.

3. Four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan, Sr. died while in detention.

4. Most recently, 4 of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the Court.

Thus, from those arraigned, only 103 accused remain on trial.

The proceedings, according to the high court, are being actively attended by 10 lawyers that comprise the third Panel of Public Prosecutors, 8 private prosecutors, and 23 defense lawyers/firms.

As of November 21, 2017, the Court has already heard a total of 273 witnesses: 166 prosecution witnesses, and 107 defense witnesses.

The Court has resolved all the 15 sets of formal offer of evidence (FOE) in connection with the bail applications of 70 accused.

It has likewise resolved all bail applications of the accused, including that of accused Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., which was denied on May 31, 2017.

The Motion for Reconsideration filed by said accused was already denied by the Court in its Order dated June 16, 2017.

The prosecution has already finished the presentation of evidence in the main cases against all of the accused, save for Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr.

Considering that the bail proceedings against him was already terminated, the Court is now awaiting for the Manifestation to be filed by the prosecution with respect to their Formal Offer of Evidence insofar as accused Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. is concerned.

Eight batches of FOEs have already been filed in Court. Seven of these FOEs have been resolved by the Court on the following dates: June 15, 2016 (1st FOE), November 14, 2016 (2nd FOE), December 12, 2016 (3rd FOE), February 9, 2017 (4th FOE) and September 18, 2017 (5th, 6th, and 7th FOEs).

It is already the turn of the accused to present their evidence-in-chief.

Thirty one (31) accused have already concluded the presentation of their evidence.

Thirty four (34) more accused are currently presenting their respective defense evidence-in-chief.

At this time, only the following major incidents remain before these proceedings conclude:

(1) the resolution of the remaining FOEs of the evidence-in-chief;

(2) Demurrers to Evidence, and

(3) the termination of the presentation of defense evidence.

As soon as the accused have rested their presentation of evidence, their respective cases may already be submitted for the decision of the Court.

NUJP: Where’s swift justice?

The NUJP issued a statement, stating, in part: “It should not have been too farfetched to hope — even expect — that an outrage of such magnitude would have shamed government into ensuring justice was swift and that such killings ended or, at least, substantially reduced.

“But as we have pointed out before, notwithstanding its shocking magnitude, the Ampatuan massacre was not an aberration but an inevitable result of the rotten system of governance that afflicts our country.

“It is a governance of expediency by which all presidents, bar none, court the loyalty of the warlords, crime lords and corrupt clans who infest Philippine politics and rule their bailiwicks like fiefdoms, because this is the only way they can rule effectively.

“In exchange, they choose to close their eyes to the plunder and violence that mark so much of our local politics. Thus are clans like the Ampatuans allowed to flourish and wield such power they actually believe they can literally get away with murder. And in most cases they do. Only the worldwide shock and outrage that followed the massacre forced the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to turn against the clan that was among her staunchest supporters.

“We will not be silenced or coerced into surrendering our duty to serve the people’s right to know.”