The power of the Ampatuan massacre verdict

Published 6:00 PM, December 20, 2019
Updated 6:52 PM, December 30, 2019

Trial of the decade. Yes, it took 10 years but that's the least of the reasons why this trial makes history. The Maguindanao massacre is the deadliest attack on journalists in the world, with 32 journalists among 58 killed. That also makes it the worst election-related violence in Philippine history with 58 murders.

As Rappler reporter Lian Buan says in the report below, it's " both a lesson on justice and reminder on impunity that will reverberate across sectors in the country for years to come."

This trial has the power to restore faith in the justice system or take it away. It has the power to make right a monumental wrong and erase the helplessness felt by victims' families. It can empower those left behind to move. And most importantly, it can teach a lesson in justice and the rule of law to the entire nation.

But these are lofty expectations of a trial – especially one set in a country where the dispensation of justice is whimsical and largely dependent on luck and economic status.

Conversely, it can take away faith in the justice system – something that scandals like the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) scandal and Bureau of Corrections exposés have already started doing.

This is not yet closure. Two things leave the families feeling that the hand of retribution has not dealt the full blow to the warlord family of Andal Ampatuan Sr: the acquittal of Sajid Islam and Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan.

Toto Mangudadatu said he would appeal the acquittal of Sajid who was present in meetings planning the carnage. Sajid is currently the mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipality in Maguindanao province and arguably the symbol of the Ampatuan's resilience in politics.

Akmad “Tato”, son-in-law of Andal Sr – had made remarks during meetings wholly approving of the mass murder – but was acquitted, too.

One family was left with nothing – no indemnity, no feeling of justice or closure. 61-year-old photojournalist Reynaldo Momay's body was never found and the court ruled against his family's plea to be included as one of the victims.

Human rights lawyer Ted Te shares his insight, saying the decision is significant in jurisprudence and discusses 3 highlights:

1. Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes is clear on who should be liable and their degree of liability. She clusters them as principal accused & accessories to the murders.

2. She made findings on the civil liability of the accused, awarding P100,000 for moral and exemplary damages for each victim. Te finds nuance in her order to indemnify the families based on income lost of the murdered family member.

3. Despite the conviction of the principals, Te notes that more people were acquitted than convicted.

You can watch the reading of the dispositive part of the 761-page document in this video: Quezon City court reads the verdict for a 10-year case.

The Ampatuan verdict, for the most part, underlines many realities , not just in Maguindanao 10 years ago, but to this day.

The biggest irony of all: Palace Spokesman Salvador Panelo lauding the decision when he used to be the lawyer of the Ampatuans.

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