Ampatuan massacre

With Calida in charge, lawyer ‘nervous’ about Ampatuan massacre appeal

Lian Buan

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With Calida in charge, lawyer ‘nervous’ about Ampatuan massacre appeal

AMPATUAN MASSACRE. After 11 years, lawyer Nena Santos continues to represent families of Ampatuan massacre victims.

Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler

'We need to watch this closely, because you know who the government's lawyer is in the appeal; the lawyer of the government is the Solicitor General,' says lawyer Nena Santos

Lawyer Nena Santos, who represents some of the Ampatuan massacre victims’ families, said there must be vigilance in the appeal process as she is “nervous” that Solicitor General Jose Calida is now in charge.

Brothers Datu Andal Jr aka Unsay and Zaldy Ampatuan have appealed their murder convictions straight to the Court of Appeals (CA) to challenge the decision of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes.

By mandate, it is the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) who will represent the government – the “People” in People vs Ampatuan – in the appeal process.

“Kailangan pa nating bantayan, kasi ang appeal ngayon, nakita niyo naman kung sino ang lawyer ng government; the lawyer of the government is the Solicitor General. Masyado akong kabado sa Solicitor General natin ha, personal na pananaw ko yan. Sana naman ay mabantayan din natin sa Court of Appeals na,” Santos said on Monday, November 23, in an online forum by the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network (FMFA).

(We need to watch this closely, because you know who the government’s lawyer is in the appeal; the lawyer of the government is the Solicitor General. I am very nervous about our Solicitor General, that’s my personal view, so I hope we watch this closely at the Court of Appeals.)

Santos said the original records from Judge Reyes were submitted to the CA only in October this year, which means the ball has only started rolling at the appellate court.

In 2017, although the OSG represented the government, Calida advocated for the acquittal of Janet Lim Napoles‘ conviction for serious illegal detention. The CA aquitted Napoles shortly after.

Accused of turning his back on the government, Calida defended his move as his duty as Tribune of the People, protected by jurisprudence that allows the Solicitor General to take a position adverse to the government if it’s in the best interest of the state.

The Ampatuan massacre, dubbed the worst attack on journalists and worst election-related violence in Philippine history, happened 11 years ago on November 23, 2009, when armed men attacked the convoy that sought to file the certificate of candidacy of then-Maguindanao governor aspirant Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. The Mangudadatus are the Ampatuans’ political rivals in the violence-gripped Southern Philippines. (SUMMARY: Why many were acquitted, some convicted in Ampatuan massacre)

Fight for justice continues

Some of the families have also appealed for higher damages, with Santos saying that the amount awarded to them by Judge Reyes was a “pittance” considering that there were so many killers. Judge Reyes convicted 28 and acquitted 56 in the historic, albeit controversial, verdict last year.

“Sana sa kasong ito magkaroon ng transcedential issue na ma-resolve ng higher court na andaming namatay, andami pumatay, ganun lang? Walang pinagkaiba sa isa ang pumatay, isa ang biktima,” Santos said.

(I hope that the higher court could resolve the transcendential issue of giving such paltry damages in a case where there were so many victims and so many killers. It’s no different from a case of a single killer and a single victim.)

Judge Reyes awarded each family P350,000 in total damages, plus the equivalent of income lost for the killed victim, which varies per family.

While some families will get as much as P23 million for the loss of earning capacity (heirs of Jephone Cadagdagon, journalist), a total of 16 families were not awarded income loss because they did not submit evidence to the court.

In a motion for reconsideration to Judge Reyes, the Quezon City court had doubled the damages for loss of earning capacity for the family of Anthony Ridao, from P3 million to P6 million. Others lost their motions.

Payment of damages would take time, the prosecutors have acknowledged, as the decision has to be made final first.

The DOJ has indicted 8 more, but cleared 40 others, in a second wave of cases. Santos has slammed this recent resolution as “another impunity.”

There are 76 others still at large.

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

With Calida in charge, lawyer ‘nervous’ about Ampatuan massacre appeal

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Lian Buan

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