Ampatuan massacre

Court of Appeals convicts checkpoint cop in Ampatuan massacre

Lian Buan

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Court of Appeals convicts checkpoint cop in Ampatuan massacre

MASSACRE. The grave site of the 58 people killed in November 2009 in the grisly Ampatuan massacre.

Rappler photo

The Court says that even if there was no proof that Bakal had been informed of the plan of the massacre, there was proof that Bakal knew that the massacre had taken place

Originally spared in the conviction of 28 people for 57 counts of murder in the gruesome 2009 Ampatuan massacre, a checkpoint cop was handed a reversal of fates by the Court of Appeals (CA), which ruled he was an accessory to the crime of murder.

The CA Special Sixth Division ruled on Tuesday, June 14, that SPO2 Badawi Bakal is “guilty beyond reasonable doubt as accessory” in the massacre.

“He is sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of four years and two months of prision correccional as minimum to 10 years of prision mayor as maximum for each of the 57 counts of murder. He is likewise solidarily liable with his co-convicted accused of the same class for payment of civil indemnity and damages to the heirs of the 57 victims, in the sums determined by the respondent trial court,” said the CA in a decision penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, with concurrences from Associate Justices Rafael Santos and Carlito Calpatura.

Bakal was among the policemen deployed by the Ampatuans to the checkpoints going to Sitio Masalay in Maguindanao, in order to clear the area for the planned massacre.

Although there is a general rule that acquittals are not reversible because of double jeopardy, the CA said Bakal’s case was an exemption because the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) “committed grave abuse of discretion.”

“It amounted to a mistrial. Thus, the Omnibus Order with respect to the acquittal of private respondent SPO2 Bakal is but a void judgment,” said the CA.

QC RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes handed down the verdict of the decade in December 2019, finding principal Ampatuan clan members guilty of 57 counts of murder. The judge convicted a total of 28 for the 57 counts, convicted 15 to lesser offenses, and acquitted 56, including Ampatuan scion  Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan.

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Who is Bakal?

The Ampatuans, an influential clan in Maguindanao whose hold on political power was challenged by rival family the Mangudadatus, commanded local police and Civilian Volunteers Organizations (CVOs) to execute a gory plan to murder their opponent.

They ended up killing 58 people in the Mangudadatu convoy, which was on the road to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu for the forthcoming Maguindanao gubernatorial election. 32 of those killed were journalists, and the incident is considered the single most violent election-related attack in the country. (There are only 57 counts because the court excluded Reynaldo Momay, whose body was never found.)

Bakal was deployed to man the checkpoint in front of the Ampatuan Municipal Hall.

In Reyes’ ruling in 2019, four people including Bakal did not receive judgments. Upon clarification, Reyes acquitted Bakal, saying the Mangudadatu convoy did not pass by his checkpoint.

The prosecution, through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), went to the CA to ask for a reversal, pointing out that Bakal had clear knowledge of the crime.

They pointed to evidence and testimonies that when interviewed by authorities after the massacre, Bakal told the others involved not to say anything, “otherwise, bad things would happen to them and their families.”

Bakal also supposedly punched and threatened two witnesses with a pistol when they mentioned the backhoe that was used to bury the dead in a shallow grave site.

The CA said Judge Reyes had a “gross misapprehension of facts” when she acquitted Bakal. The appellate court ruled that Bakal was guilty as an accessory, under Article 19 of the Revised Penal Code.

The Court said that even if there was no proof that Bakal had been informed of the plan of the massacre, there was proof that Bakal knew that the massacre had taken place.

“Being a police officer in the active service, SPO2 Bakal abused his public office when he concealed the identities of the accused; he failed to effect or cause their immediate arrest; and he contributed to the delay in the investigation of the crime,” said the Court.

“From the foregoing, the Court is of the view that SPO2 Bakal’s actuations immediately after the commission of the crime demonstrate his liability as an accessory,” said the Court.

“Regardless of the absence of proof that Ampatuan town Vice Mayor Sangki informed SPO2 Bakal of Datu Unsay’s plan to ambush the Mangudadatu convoy, the petitioner’s, including private respondent’s, submissions showed that herein private respondent SPO2 Bakal had knowledge of the crime,” said the Court.

A second batch of cases had been resolved by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in November 2020, when prosecutors indicted eight more members of the Ampatuans’ private army, but cleared 40 others. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.