MANILA, Philippines – The verdict on the Ampatuan massacre is a “big win” for the victims and their families, said human rights lawyer and former Supreme Court (SC) spokesperson Ted Te hours after the decision was handed down on Thursday, December 19.
The decision of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes convicted 28 of the 197 accused – including the principal accused, brothers Datu Andal Jr Ampatuan and Zaldy Ampatuan – of 57 counts of murder. Their other brother Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan was acquitted.
“It’s a big win, it’s a big verdict. Simply because the family has never been out of power. They remained very influential, they remained very powerful, they remained well-connected, they remained very rich,” Te told Rappler.
The Ampatuans are a prominent political family in Maguindanao and continued to be so even after the massacre. Datu Sajid Islam, who was out on bail when the verdict was passed, is currently the mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipality. (TIMELINE: The long road to justice for Maguindanao massacre victims)
Te added that Reyes’ conviction – reclusion perpetua, or up to 40 years in jail, without parole – was a “brave statement” to make.
“If there are lesser people convicted than acquitted, I think that’s still a big win…that judgment, that verdict, shouldn’t be characterized as anything less than that,” Te said.
The Ampatuan massacre, which took place on November 23, 2009, resulted in the death of 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists. It is the single deadliest recorded attack on the media worldwide. ([WATCH] Trial of the decade: Highlights of Ampatuan massacre case)
Before today, the families of the victims had been waiting 10 years for justice.
Te however, said, that it could take another decade before the families of the victims could receive payment for civil damages. (READ: Children bear the brunt 10 years since Ampatuan massacre)
The amounts in civil damages for each family, which ranged from around P350,000 to P4 million (for loss of earning capacity, in particular), were a far cry from the P20 million that prosecutor lawyer Harry Roque said they had asked the court to order the convicted to pay.
After the conviction, Te predicted that those found guilty will file for a motion for reconsideration and, if they lose there, take their case up to the Court of Appeals (CA). The case may even reach the SC if they lose in the CA.
The families of the victims can also appeal for a higher amount in civil liabilities.
Given the number of people concerned, Te said that realistically, it could be many years – even another 10 – before any amount in civil liabilities could be collected and all the cases are finally settled. – Rappler.com