Ampatuan massacre

DOJ indicts 8, clears 40 in new Ampatuan massacre cases

Lian Buan

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JUSTICE FOR 58. Families of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre after the historic verdict on December 19, 2019.

Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

'Mere presence at the scene of the crime does not automatically make one liable for it, much less presence in the place or meeting where the crime was allegedly planned,' says the DOJ resolution
DOJ indicts 8, clears 40 in new Ampatuan massacre cases

The Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted 8 more people, but cleared 40 in the 2nd batch of Ampatuan massacre cases – cause for a second wave of disappointment, according to the lawyer of the victims’ families.

“Parang feeling ko hindi na natin kakampi (ang DOJ), parang pinagbigyan lang ako sa 8, tapos inalis yung 40. Ano ba ‘yung 40 na ‘yun, sa testimony ng mga witnesses puwede na silang ma-convict,” lawyer Nena Santos said on Monday, November 23, in an online forum of the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network (FMFA).

(I feel like the DOJ is no longer on our side, it’s like they just granted me the 8, but cleared the 40 when you can already convict them just based on the testimony of witnesses.)

In the DOJ’s resolution signed August 28, 2019, but received by Santos only in October 2020, the prosecution panel found probable cause to charge for murder other members of the Ampatuans’ private army for carrying out the gruesome murder of 58 in November 2009 – acknowledged as the worst attack on journalists and the worst election-related violence in Philippine history:

  1. Datu Moning Ampatuan Asim
  2. Datu Harris Ampatuan Macapendeng
  3. Dali Kamendan aka Kumander Boy
  4. Mautin Upam
  5. Rene Upam
  6. Datu Diego “Digo” Mamalapat
  7. Daud Kamendan aka Kumander Kuatro
  8. A certain “Biton” from the Philippine National Police

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra has not responded yet to a request for comment on this story. The resolution was signed by Assistant State Prosecutors Josie Christina Dugay, Mary Jane Sytat, Jovyanne Santa Maria, Loverhette Jeffrey Villordon, and approved by Prosecutor General Benedicto Malcontento.

Of the 40 cleared, the biggest name is Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, who was accused of being in the meeting where the coverup of the crime was allegedly planned.

In clearing Sayadi and others surnamed Ampatuan, the DOJ said “(they) may have attended some of the supposed meetings, but did not take part in the actual killings.”

“To reiterate, mere presence at the scene of the crime does not automatically make one liable for it, much less presence in the place or meeting where the crime was allegedly planned,” the DOJ resolution said.

“Even so, none of the complainants and their witnesses mentioned any active participation committed by these respondents; thus, a finding of probable cause must fail,” the resolution said.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes acquitted 56 people in the historic verdict in 2019 because they were not found to have done an overt act in the massacre. (SUMMARY: Why many were acquitted, some convicted in Ampatuan massacre)


The trial of the 1st batch lasted 10 long years, decried as an injustice to the families. Santos called the result of the 2nd batch “another impunity.”

Santos has filed a motion for reconsideration, and asked for the inhibition of Prosecutors Dugay, Sytat, and Santa Maria.

“The struggles with the DOJ are far more huge sa ngayon compared sa una kasi nung una feeling ko, kakampi natin yung DOJ, feeling ko na suportado nila ang kaso at ‘yung feeling na ‘yun ay pinatotohanan naman nung panahon ni Secretary (Leila) de Lima at saka nung panahon ni Secretary (now Supreme Court Associate Justice Benjamin) Caguioa. Pero sa ngayon hindi ko na mabasa,” said Santos.

(The struggles with the DOJ are far more huge now compared to before because I used to feel the DOJ was on our side then. That was proven to be true during the terms of Secretaries (Leila) De Lima and (now Supreme Court Associate Justice Benjamin) Caguioa. Right now, I can’t read them anymore.)

Santos said there no longer seems to be special protection given to the witnesses. A vital witness, Mohamad Sangki, survived an attack in South Cotabato June this year.

There are 76 who remain at large, according to Santos.

The 58 people were part of a convoy that sought to file the certificate of candidacy of then-Maguindanao governor aspirant Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

Judge Reyes’ convictions showed that there was an elaborate plan to kill Mangudadatu, killing the 58 people in the process, 32 of whom are journalists, in a grisly plan where Ampatuans had command over the local

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Lian Buan

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