Ampatuan Massacre trial updateJustice delayed

Posted by ampatuan | Posted in Case Updates | Posted on 11-01-2013

THE TRIAL of the accused killers and  masterminds of the Ampatuan Massacre continued in 2012—but with hardly the kind of progress that press freedom groups and the families left behind by the 58 men and women killed Nov. 23 have been demanding.

Three years have passed since the Ampatuan Massacre. The trial of the 196 alleged masterminds and perpetrators has been stalled by the lengthy processes involved in addressing the bail petitions of  58 of the accused.

(The Department of Justice originally filed murder charges against 197 persons.   But the court has dismissed charges against a police officer for lack of probable cause in 2010.)

On Nov. 23, 2009, more than 100 men intercepted the convoy of Genalin Mangudadatu which included 32 reporters, editors, publishers, photographers, and cameramen.   All 52 members of the convoy were killed on a hilltop in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province; six others who happened to be on their way to Cotabato City were also stopped with the convoy and were also shot to death.

Genalin Mangudadatu together with relatives and supporters of her husband, former Buluan town vice-mayor and now Maguindanao governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, was supposed to file the latter’s certificate of candidacy for the 2010 gubernatorial race.

The trial

Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City  is currently hearing the 57  counts of murder filed against 197 alleged perpetrators in connection with the Nov. 23, 2009 Massacre. The alleged perpetrators include prominent members of the Ampatuan clan—Andal Sr., Andal “Unsay” Jr., Zaldy, Sajid Islam, Akmad “Tato”, Anwar Sr., Anwar “Ipi” Jr. and Anwar Sajid “Ulo” who are all detained in the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan.  Other members of said clan such as Bahnarin and Kanor are still at large.

The case for Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay was filed by the Department of Justice in September 2012.

Only 81 out of the 98 (QC RTC figure) arrested suspects have been arraigned by the QC court as a result of delays caused by the numerous petitions and motions filed by both the defense and the prosecution.

Figure 1 | Accused
Detained 98
At-large 98
Charges dismissed 1
TOTAL ACCUSED 197

Observers have criticized the prosecution’s strategy which included everyone mentioned during the preliminary investigation without assessing the ability of the police to arrest and detain suspects and the lengthy trial of over 100 persons in a system hat has not been noted for speed.

Simultaneous bail hearings and evidence-in-chief

Sadly, the trial of the Ampatuan Massacre has been stalled by the need under the rules of court to show “strong evidence of guilt” on the part of the 58 suspected perpetrators who have filed petitions for bail.

Figure 2 | Applications for Bail
PNP/AFP 41
Ampatuan 5
CVOs, etc. 12
TOTAL 58

Observers have noted with surprise how a bail hearing can last so long, and can involve the presentation of the “evidence-in-chief,” or the evidence that wll be presented during the trial itself. (For the accused who did not file petitions for bail, the proceedings are already in the trial stage.) In many court systems around the world, bail hearings are simply about whether the accused should be allowed liberty while the trial proceeds, involving a judgment of the gravity of the crime he or she is accused of and the risk of flight.

Even during the extended bail hearing, the defense lawyer of three accused members of the Ampatuan clan achieved delays with nine motions so far asking the judge to recuse herself. This number is much more limited in other judicial systems. In the Philippine courts, there is no limit to this delaying option.

Petitions in higher courts

During the bail hearings, the accused can ask for clarification of some of the court’s decisions, as defense lawyers representing different accused have asked the appellate courts and the Supreme Court to nullify their indictment in the multiple murder case, petitions which of course have delayed their arraignment.

One such petition was filed by defense counsels for Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the primary suspects and a brother of Unsay, with the Court of Appeals (CA) in June 2010. It was denied in November 2011 and again in April 2012; it was raised to the Supreme Court (SC) in April 2012.

SC affirmed the CA decision “with finality” in November 2012, saying the appellate court did not commit any reversible error and that the subsequent motion for reconsideration lacked merit.

There are four more pending petitions for certiorari, three for primary suspects, all members of the Ampatuan clan and one for a member of a civilian voluntary organization or CVO: Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Sajid Islam Ampatuan, Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr., and CVO member Nicomedes Tolentino.

Figure 3 | Other petitions pending in Higher courts involving Multiple Murder Case
Defense Petition of Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. questioning the dismissal of the indirect contempt charges against lawyer Nena Santos Unsay’s petition questioning the admission of police officer Rainer Ebus’ testimony (Post-facto evidence) by the QC RTC Andal Ampatuan Sr.’s petition of a Manila RTC resolution dismissing his civil case vs DOJ seeking asking indictment of witness Kenny Dalandag
Prosecution Petition for certiorari asking for the reversal of the trial court’s dismissal of their motion to discharge Mohammad Sangki to be state witnesses

Last Oct. 3, the First Division of the SC upheld the filing of  multiple murder charges against Anwar Ampatuan Sr. The Court in its resolution said Anwar failed to show that the CA committed mistake in retaining him as an accused in the Ampatuan Massacre trial.

The multiple petitions and motions by both the defense and the prosecution have delayed the trial. From January 2010 to October 2012, the defense has filed approximately 540 pleadings (motions/manifestations/petitions/comments) before the QC RTC Branch 221. The prosecution filed about 210 pleadings.

According to SC, Judge Solis of QC RTC Branch 221 had resolved 204 out of the 307 motions (excluding oral manifestations) filed by both defense and prosecution. This leaves 103—including 58 bail petitions—still unsolved.

Live coverage

A month before the third year anniversary of  the Massacre, SC revoked its earlier ruling allowing live broadcast media coverage of the hearings on the Ampatuan Massacre. The 23 October 2012 decision gave weight to the appeal of Andal Ampatuan Sr. , saying that allowing real-time showing of the trial would be undermine  his and the other accused’s right to due process.

The court, however, ordered the establishment of out-of-court viewing areas where the press and other interested citizens can watch the proceedings. Viewing areas will be put up in General Santos City, Koronadal City and Cotabato City.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, which led in the petition for the live coverage request, filed a motion for reconsideration last Dec. 7.  But it is unlikely that the Court would change its original decision.