MANILA – The Court of Appeals (CA) upheld the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) allowing a son of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., who is one of the respondents in the Maguindanao massacre case, to be released on bail.
In a four-page resolution penned by Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob, concurred in by Associate Justices Ricardo Rosario and Edwin Sorongon, the CA 16th Division denied the government prosecutors’ plea seeking the reversal of Quezon RTC Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes decision granting Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan.
Datu Sajid is one of the principal suspects in the Maguindanao massacre, where 58 people were killed including 32 journalists in November 2009.
He was granted bail last January 9, 2015.
The Ampatuan clan was accused of masterminding the Maguindanao massacre, which killed 58 people to derail the political plans of rival Esmael Mangudadatu, incumbent governor of Maguindanao, for the 2010 elections.
The appellate court did not give credence to the claim of the petitioners that its January 30, 2017 decision should be reversed following the decision of the trial court to discharge Police Insp. Rex Ariel Diongon as state witness and to admit his testimony.
Government prosecutors asked the CA to give weight to the testimony of Diongon which was previously disregarded by the trial curt, to prove that the evidence against Ampatuan was strong enough to deny his application for bail.
The petitioners said that this “supervening event” should warrant the reversal of the CA’s decision favoring Ampatuan.
The CA noted that the petitioners failed to submit proof that such order was issued by the Court.
Even assuming that such order was issued by the trial court, the CA said it would have no relevance to this present case considering that the CA power of review is limited only to a determination whether or not the trial court issued the said order in grave abuse of its discretion amounting to lack or in excess of jurisdiction.
“Indeed, our power of review does not include encroaching upon the lower court’s prerogative of determining the witnesses whose testimonies are relevant to the application of bail as well as the power of probative weight to said witnesses’ testimonies in the absence of any showing that the exercise of such discretion was gravely abused by the trial court – an imputation we find wanting in the instant case,” the CA ruled.
Aside from the said supervening event, the CA described the other arguments as mere rehash of the arguments raised in its main petition which it already considered in coming up with its earlier decision.
“In other words, these arguments are not issues which are novel or which the Court overlooked to pass upon. Hence, the same do not need further judicial determination,” it added.
In a related development, the CA also affirmed the QC RTC’s grant of bail to 16 policemen who were among the 198 accused in the Maguindanao massacre.
The decision issued last month, penned by Associate Justice Jhosep Lopez of the CA Tenth Division, denied the petition filed by government prosecutors seeking the reversal of the order issued by the trial court on October 13, 2014 which granted the petition for bail filed by the 16 accused police officers who are members of the 1508th Provincial Mobile Group (PMG).
Granted bail were PO1 Heirich Amaba, PO3 Rasid Anton, PO3 Felix Enate, PO1 Esprielito Lejarso, PO1 Narkouk Mascud, SPO1 Eduardo Hong, PO2 Saudi Pasuta, PO1 Arnulfo Soriano, PO1 Pia Kamidon, PO3 Abibudin Abdulgani, PO2 Hamad Nana, PO1 Esmael Guilal, SPO1 Oscar Donato, PO1 Abdullah Baguadatu, PO2 Saudiar Ulah, and P/Insp. Michael Joy Macaraeg.
In granting their bail applications, the trial court noted that none of the testimonies or exhibits presented by the prosecution had particularly linked and identified the police officers to the relevant times and places surrounding the alleged killing of the victims.
Earlier, Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said that Quezon City RTC has been conducting hearings on the Maguindanao massacre case thrice a week in a bid to serve justice to the victims of the crime and their families.
Sereno said Judge Solis-Reyes has already heard a total of 233 witnesses: 131 prosecution witnesses, 58 private complainants, and 44 defense witnesses.
She added the court has also resolved all the 12 sets of formal offer of evidence (FOE), and all bail applications of the 69 accused, except the bail application of accused Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., which was deemed submitted for resolution on January 3, 2017.
Last July 2015, Ampatuan Sr., succumbed to cardiac arrest and died at the age of 74.