The Ampatuan Massacre: A thousand days after

Posted by ampatuan | Posted in Analysis | Posted on 31-08-2012

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By the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists

With 32 journalists and media workers for victims, the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan (Maguindanao) Massacre catapulted the Philippines to the top of the list of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. But with the total at 58 dead, 26 other men and women including lawyers and campaign workers having been killed as well, the Massacre was also the worst single political killing in the Philippines since democracy was restored in 1986. The motive for the crime was to prevent the filing of the Certificate of Candidacy (COC) of then vice mayor, now governor of Maguindanao, Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. The Massacre was therefore an attack on both the free press and free elections.

 

One thousand days later, the trial of the accused planners and perpetrators of the massacre is also amassing the numbers that are demonstrating how difficult is the battle for justice in the Philippines.

Of the 197 charged with 57 counts of murder (the body of broadcaster Reynaldo Momay is still to be found), only 97 have been arrested and detained. Of these 97, only 76 have been arraigned.

 

(Of the 76, one jumped to his death from the roof of the building where his cell was located. The trial judge hearing and trying the massacre case has ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the death of PO2 Hernanie S. Decipulo Jr.  As of this writing, there are only 196 accused persons named in the Ampatuan Massacre case. The murder case against PO1 Johann Draper was dismissed  by the court in 2010.)

 

Delays, delays and more delays

 

Of the 99 accused who are still at large, two have reportedly died: Parido Zangkala Gogo on April 28, 2010, and PO1 Abbey Guiadem, who was reported to have been injured in an encounter sometime in mid-2012, and who eventually succumbed to gunshot wounds a few days after. Both died without ever having been arrested and brought to court to answer the 57 counts of murder against them.

 

Of those who are currently detained, 56 have filed separate petitions for bail. Only one of these 56 petitions has been submitted for resolution, that of Police Inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg, which was submitted more than a year ago.

 

The petition for bail of accused Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr, who was the first to file such a petition, is also pending. The trial court has allowed Ampatuan Jr. to present rebuttal evidence in support of his petition for bail.

 

Several of those who have filed petitions for bail have not been arraigned. These include Sajid Islam, Anwar Sr and Akmad “Tato”, all members of the Ampatuan clan. Only Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr and Andal Ampatuan Sr, who have filed petitions for bail, have been arraigned.

 

Changes

 

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the lead government agency in the prosecution of the case, had its share of controversy when then Acting Justice Secretary Alberto C. Agra issued a resolution in April 2010 recommending the dropping of charges against Zaldy Ampatuan and Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan. The resolution has since been reversed upon the filing of separate motions for reconsideration by private complainants.

 

The composition of the DOJ panel of prosecutors also went through a number of changes. First chaired by the late Senior Assistant State Prosecutor (SASP) Leo Dacera III, and co-chaired by SASP Roseanne Balauag, the panel was later chaired by Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon, and finally chaired by Deputy Regional Prosecutor Peter Medalle. The composition of the panel has continued to change even in the middle of the criminal proceedings.

 

The panel has also lost two of its senior state prosecutors, both experienced litigators. SASP Dacera III died on November 4, 2010. Assistant State Prosecutor Nestor Lazaro died on February 29, 2012.

 

No end in sight

 

The criminal proceedings have continued despite these and other changes.

 

But from once a week, the court hearings are now held four times a week: Monday for motions, Tuesday for receipt of evidence for the civil aspect, and Wednesday and Thursday for presentation of prosecution evidence-in-chief as well as evidence in opposition to bail. To date, 110 witnesses have been presented by the prosecution. These include more than 40 private complainants.

 

And yet, the end is nowhere in sight.

 

In its June 28, 2011 resolution, A.M. No. 10-11-6-SC, the Supreme Court designated Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 (QC RTC Br 221) as a special court authorized to hear all issues related to the Ampatuan Massacre, including those cognizable by other courts. To help speed up the process, the court has been excluded by the QC RTC Executive Judge from the raffle of other cases.

 

Despite these seeming indications of the trial’s moving forward, more than 60 motions remain unresolved due to the enormous workload related to the case.

 

Before other tribunals are other cases related to the massacre. Cases such as perjury, libel, and petitions for certiorari, for prohibition, and for mandamus are pending before other co-equal courts of RTC QC Branch 221.

 

Various separate petitions for review, for certiorari, and for review on certiorari are also pending before the Office of the President, the Office of the Secretary of Justice, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court. The petitions for certiorari usually include an urgent prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) or a writ of preliminary injunction to halt proceedings against a certain accused or to stop the presentation of certain witnesses and/or evidence. No such TRO or writ has been issued to date, but the desired objectives of these petitions appear to have been achieved through the mere act of filing the petitions.

 

The trial court has yet to set the arraignment of other accused persons such as Zaldy, Akmad “Tato”, and Sajid Islam, all surnamed Ampatuan. It has also put on hold the presentation of witnesses, among them Kenny Dalandag, Police Inspector Diongon, and a few others. On the ground of “judicial courtesy”, the trial court has also deferred the presentation of prosecution evidence until higher courts decide on the petititons and motions before them.

 

Involved but not accused

 

The process is not likely to be any less problematic in the next 1,000 days. The testimonies of some eyewitnesses have revealed that several others may have been involved in the crime. These “several others” include lawyers, government officials, and police and military officers who are currently not listed among the 196 accused.

 

The bottom line is that the judicial process still has a long way to go if it is to hold accountable those who planned, carried out or abetted the Ampatuan Massacre. And yet holding them accountable is a necessary condition in the imperative to demonstrate that the killers of journalists, lawyers, campaign workers and anyone else will be punished, and the culture of impunity dismantled.