MANILA – After ten years, the trial on the Maguindanao massacre case comes to a close Thursday as the court hearing the case renders its verdict.
Facing verdict are 101 out of a total 197 accused charged with 58 counts of murder, 1 for every person killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre.
The accused are charged for an attack of a convoy of mostly women on their way to Shariff Aguak in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy (COC) of then-gubernatorial candidate and now-House Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
Among those killed were Mangudadatu’s own wife and 2 sisters, and 12 other relatives and supporters, 2 lawyers and a father of one of the lawyers, 2 drivers, 6 passersby and 32 journalists.
Based on court records, ABS-CBN News provides a summary of the case and what to expect during the promulgation of judgment.
The powerful Ampatuan clan is accused of masterminding the killings.
Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., son of the late patriarch Andal Ampatuan, Sr., is said to have led more than a hundred armed men, which blocked the victims’ convoy, shot some of the victims and ordered that their bodies be buried using a backhoe at a shallow grave in Ampatuan town.
His defense: he was attending meetings from 8:35 am to 12:30 p.m., at the Datu Unsay town municipal hall, where he was mayor, when the killings took place.
Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Datu Zaldy “Puti” Ampatuan, also a son of Andal Sr., supposedly took part and expressed full support in the plan to kill Mangudadatu. He was allegedly in charge if Mangudadatu filed his COC in Manila.
His defense: he was in Malacañang for a meeting with then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when the incident happened.
Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, another brother and currently mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao, was allegedly involved in the planning as he attended the meetings. He, however, said he went into reclusion and avoided his family soon after he was removed as OIC governor of Maguindanao a month before the killings.
At the time of the massacre, he said he assisted his wife who was filing her own COC at Shariff Saydona town, 15 minutes away from the crime scene.
Sajid was granted bail in 2015, with the court citing testimonies that he did not utter a single word during the supposed meetings.
Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., yet another sibling, then mayor of Shariff Aguak, was allegedly involved in the planning and helped his brother Datu Unsay escape after the killings.
His defense: he was in the town of Shariff Aguak presiding over a meeting with government officials. His sons, Datu Anwar Sajid Ampatuan alias Datu Ulo and Datu Anwar Ampatuan Jr. alias Datu Ipi, are also among those charged.
Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr., nephew and son-in-law of Andal Sr., and another Ampatuan – Jimmy Ampatuan– are also accused of conspiring with the other accused.
Fifty-four police officers led by Police Maj. Sukarno Dicay, then chief of the Philippine National Police 15th Regional Mobile Group, will also be sentenced on Thursday, along with 39 other civilians.
Of the 101 accused due for sentencing, 90 are detained while Sajid and 10 policemen are out on bail.
Eighty other suspects, including 15 bearing the surname Ampatuan, are still at large and won’t be among those sentenced Thursday.
Meanwhile, the criminal liability of the 8 accused who died during the course of the trial, including Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., were deemed to have been extinguished upon their deaths.
The murder cases, meanwhile, for 8 others were either dismissed due to insufficient evidence or they were discharged as state witnesses (Esmael Canapia and P Lt. Rex Ariel T. Diongon), including Sukarno Badal, a former Sultan sa Barongis vice mayor who testified on the Ampatuans’ involvement from the planning to the execution of the killings and the subsequent cover-up.
On the day of the promulgation of judgment, all the accused are expected to appear in court with their respective lawyers, as part of their rights under the law.
Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has limited the number of lawyers attending to one per client for both the prosecution and the defense due to space limitations in the courtroom in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, where some of the accused have been held.
All the parties will be called by the judge and if there are no motions, the judge will proceed to order the reading of the verdict, which may either be read in full or only the part pronouncing the court’s finding of guilty or not guilty (the dispositive portion).
Charged with 58 counts of murder, the accused could face reclusion perpetua or 40 years in prison for each count, although the Revised Penal Code limits service of prison sentence to a maximum of 40 years.
In order to prove murder, the prosecution needs to show that the killings were attended by any of the following elements they alleged in the information: evident premeditation, taking advantage of superior strength, treachery, cruelty, in an uninhabited place, by a band, or armed with firearms.
Otherwise, the crime may fall under homicide punishable by reclusion temporal or up to 20 years in prison.
If found "guilty," the accused may ask the court for reconsideration of the ruling and subsequently file an appeal to the Court of Appeals, if the motion is denied.
Under the rules, the accused loses their chance to appeal the ruling if their absence during the promulgation of judgment are not justified.
However, a "not guilty" finding will bar any appeal on the criminal aspect as it would amount to double jeopardy, a constitutional right preventing an accused from being tried again for the same or similar charge following an acquittal or conviction.
Whatever the outcome, the proceedings on Thursday will bring a semblance of closure to a long drawn-out legal battle to prosecute those responsible for the gruesome Maguindanao massacre a decade ago.
But a finding of guilt may still be appealed and the battle will continue in the higher courts.