SUMMARY: Why many were acquitted, some convicted in Ampatuan massacre
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – How did Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes come up with different rulings applied to 99 individuals allegedly involved in the grisly Ampatuan massacre on November 23, 2009?
Reyes grouped the massacre suspects into 6 categories based on the extent of their liabiity and their innocence. Her 3 rulings covered murder convictions, convictions of a lesser offense, and acquittals.
Murder convictions numbered 28, those sentenced to a lesser offense totaled 15, and acquittals numbered 56.
Judge Reyes classified the accused into the following 6 categories:
1) those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot and fired at the victims in Sitio Masalay (the scene of the massacre) - guilty as principals
2) those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot and performed other acts outside of Sitio Masalay - guilty as principals
3) those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot but did not at all perform any overt act - acquitted
4) those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot but were actual assailants in Sitio Masalay - guilty as principals
5) those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot but were still identified or had performed overt acts - convicted of a lesser offense
6) those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot were not at all identified in the locus criminis and are totally innocent of the crimes - acquitted
56 were acquitted, of whom only 53 were declared "totally innocent" – most of them policemen who were assigned to checkpoints in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, which were later discovered to be designed by the masterminds to take the Mangudadatu convoy to the massacre site.
Two of the acquitted, Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan and his cousin-in-law Datu Akmad "Tato" Ampatuan, belong to an exclusive category of "those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot but did not at all perform any overt act."
Sajid Islam and Tato were both present in meetings to plan the massacre. Sajid did not speak in the pre-massacre meeting, but participated in a post-massacre meeting to plan how to spin the story of why a backhoe was at the massacre site. The backhoe operator, Bong Andal, was among the 15 convicted of a lesser offense, being an accessory to the crime and neglecting to tell authorities about the massacre.
Tato agreed in the meeting to kill the Mangudadatus but did not participate in the killing on November 23, 2009, leading Judge Reyes to acquit him.
Judge Reyes' ruling, 761 pages long, may have, however, overlooked some details. For example, 101 underwent trial, ending with supposedly 99 judgments. But one name (that of P/Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong) appeared twice on the list (under convicted and acquitted). Reyes also acquitted someone still at large (PO1 Ysmael Baraquir).
In addition, there are 4 people whose names are not found in the decision – SPO2 George S. Labayan, SPO2 Badawi P. Bakal, PO1 Abdulbayan U. Mundas, and Rakim M. Amil.
Judge Reyes' rulings classify the accused according to the following:
CONVICTED OF MURDER
Reyes said the first class of accused, "those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot and fired at the victims in Sitio Masalay" – "are clearly guilty as principals by direct participation." They were identified as:
"The second class of accused – those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot and performed other acts outside of Sitio Masalay – are also principals by direct participation," the ruling said.
Zaldy, like Tato, was present in the meeting and spoke too. But Judge Reyes found Zaldy's comments in the meeting much more complicit than Tato's. "He consistently gave his support to the plans and advised about being cautious so as not to get caught that would put his name to shame, and those attending the meetings, behind bars," said Reyes.
Tato Ampatuan was quoted sa saying:
“Pakinggan natin si Ama. Okay kami lahat na patayin sila." (Let's listen to father, we're okay with killing them all.)
"Mabuti nga sa mga Mangudadatu na mahilig mag-ambisyon, na patayin sila lahat." (It's only right to kill all the Mangudadatus for having too much ambition.)
Zaldy Ampatuan appeared to be worse off:
“Kung 'yan ang mapag-usapan kailangan planuhin mabuti para hindi tayo mabisto.” (If that's what is agreed upon, let's plan it well so we're not found out.)
“Kung 'yan na ang final desisyon natin, na patayin silang lahat, ay pupunta ako ng Maynila para hindi tayo mahalata at magtawagan na lang tayo.” (If that's the final decision, to kill them all, I will go to Manila so we're not obvious, and let's just call each other.)
“Todo suporta ako dyan, Ama, dapat malinis ang pagkagawa.” (I fully support that, father, this should be a clean job.)
“Dahil kung hindi malinis, madudungisan ang pangalan ko at makukulong tayong lahat.” (If this is sloppy, my name will be ruined and we would all go to jail.)
“Todo Suporta ako diyan, kahit lahat ng baril ko gagamitin nyo. Kailangan malinis ang pagkakatrabaho kasi kapag nagkataon makukulong tayong lahat." (I fully support that, you can even use all of my guns. This should be a clean job because otherwise we will all go to jail.)
Both Zaldy and Tato did not participate in the actual massacre, but Judge Reyes found that Tato "did not cling to the agreed plot to kill," while Zaldy "was deeply involved in the planning of the crimes."
According to law professor Tony La Viña, Zaldy's offer of his guns is an overt act.
"Overt acts are those intended to implement the agreement to commit a crime. Anything a person does after that meeting that would be seen as a step toward the killings would be an overt act," La Viña said, explaining that Tato's consent to kill may not be overt.
"Thus, words like ‘I will provide the guns’ or even saying, ‘I will go to Manila so it won’t be obvious’ can be considered overt acts," said La Viña.
"The fourth class of accused – those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot but were actual assailants in Sitio Masalay – are likewise guilty as principals by direct participation. The following were identified by various witnesses as having actually fired at the victims," said Reyes, in convicting policemen and civilian volunteers:
CONVICTED OF A LESSER OFFENSE
While the 28 principals were sentenced to reclusion perpetua of up to 40 years, Judge Reyes convicted an additional 15 for being accessories to the crime, and sentenced them to 6-10 years in prison.
If these convicts had already spent around 10 years in preventive imprisonment, there's a high chance they would soon walk free because preventive imprisonment is creditable under the law.
"The fifth class of accused – those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot but were still identified or had performed overt acts," said Reyes.
Some of the policemen said that Datu Andal Jr's men also pointed guns at them, "hence, they were not able to do anything to prevent the abduction of the victims for fear of their lives."
"The court is not convinced. Surely, while the firearms of the men of Datu Kanor were pointed at them, their lives were in danger. Thus, it is understandable that the instinct of self-preservation will set in. However, as police officers, they are not only mandated to maintain peace and order but ensure public safety as well. Hence, as soon as Datu Kanor and his armed men had already left Malating checkpoint, and danger to their lives were no longer present, they were duty bound to immediately report said incident to their higher officials so that appropriate action can be made which could have saved the lives of the victims," said Reyes.
As for Andal, Judge Reyes convicted him because he "buried the dead bodies of the 57 victims and neglected to inform the authorities about it."
In acquitting Datu Sajid Islam and Tato, Reyes referred to a "third class of accused – those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot but did not at all perform any overt act."
"The sixth class of accused – those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot were not at all identified in the locus criminis – are totally innocent of these crimes," said Reyes.
"It stands to reason therefore, that while they may have heard the burst of gunfires after said convoy had passed, their failure to report the same or respond thereto, should not be taken against them, given that burst of gunfires is considered a normal occurrence in their place, the peace and order situation being one of the major problems therein since time immemorial," Reyes added.
This applied to the following:
The Philippine National Police (PNP) said on Friday, December 20, that the acquitted policemen can return to service.
Families of the victims, however, said they are more fearful now because of possible retaliation from both the acquitted and the 80 who are still at large.
The 28 convicted of murder and the 15 convicted of a lesser offense were all convicted of 57 counts because Judge Reyes excluded Reynaldo Momay, the 58th victim, a journalist whose body has not been found to this day. – Rappler.com