The appeals process of the 2019 Maguindanao massacre verdict has been slow-moving, with the submission of briefs yet to happen two years since the lower court decision.
Lawyers of different groups of journalists said they are yet to be ordered by the Court of Appeals (CA) to submit their briefs, which means the prospect of a resolution by the appellate court remains in a far horizon.
This matters because without resolution, the families of the 57 victims killed in the worst election-related attack in Philippine history will not receive the damages yet, 12 years since the incident in 2009.
“We hope that the CA will fast-track the resolution of the case. There is no order yet for us to file a memorandum in our appeal on civil damages,” said Nena Santos, lawyer for a group of journalists, on Tuesday, November 23, the 12th year of commemoration of the massacre.
Santos’ group is appealing to increase damages awarded to some of the families. The amount of damages awarded per victim’s family varied.
While P350,000 in damages was uniform for all, each family will get an additional individually-computed compensation for equivalent of income lost. Some families will get as much as P23 million, while some were not awarded lost income because of lack of supporting documents.
The 2019 verdict convicted and sentenced 28 to reclusion perpetua, including principals Ampatuan brothers Zaldy, Datu Andal Jr, and Anwar Sr, convicted 15 of a lesser offense, and acquitted 56. Generally, acquittals can no longer be appealed so they could be convicted because of the principle of double jeopardy.
But in June, the CA Special Sixth Division convicted SPO2 Badawi Bakal, a cop manning the checkpoint in the murder site. The court ruled that there was a mistrial.
The appeals process also matters to Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of the 58th victim, Reynaldo Momay.
Momay was excluded in the 2019 verdict of Quezon City judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes because his body was never found.
The Center for International Law (CenterLaw), which represents Castillo, has filed an appeal with the CA to include Momay, citing his dentures found at the crime scene.
CenterLaw’s Gilbert Andres said they have yet to receive notice from the CA that all the records have been transferred to them. Because of this, an appeal brief has not been filed.
“I frankly do not know if the pandemic had a hand in that, so we have to wait and see from the Court of Appeals,” Andres said in a press conference Tuesday, adding that they “will exhaust all domestic remedies, international remedies available to find justice for the 58th victim.”
Fifteen policemen, who were members of the 1508th Provincial Mobile Group (PMG), were convicted in 2019, but with a lesser offense. The conviction carried a sentence with a maximum 10-year imprisonment only.
The 15 cops withdrew their appeal in the CA, noting that their preventive detention since 2009 had already exceeded their sentence. Under the laws, preventive detention is creditable when serving sentence. The CA granted their motion to withdraw on May 31.
“As of now we don’t have verified information if they have been released, but suffice it to say, in fact, CenterLaw clients actually filed administrative complaints…and some of these police officers, 20 of them out of 60, were actually dismissed from service,” said Andres.
Families represented by CenterLaw said they have not received threats.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the 15 policemen are under the custody of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) and “their time credit allowances are being reviewed.”
There was a second batch of indictments in 2020 by the Department of Justice (DOJ) against eight members of the Ampatuan private army, but in that resolution, 40 people were cleared.
Santos said they took the route of appealing before the Office of the President (OP) the DOJ’s dismissal of complaints against the 40.
Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a co-founder of CenterLaw, said he does not know the status of this appeal because “I observed the principle of conflict of interest,” but added, “I will definitely follow up.”
Turning emotional during the Tuesday press conference, Castillo said she will pursue the appeal not because she’s after the damages, but because she’s after justice for her father.
“Hindi ko alam kung kinonsider nilang tao, o hayop, ‘yung tatay ko. Nawala na lang ang nanay ko na hindi nasisilayan ang hustisya, ayaw kong mawala na lang din ako na hindi ko ‘yun nasisilayan kaya ilalaban ko hangga’t nandiyan kayo,” said Castillo, who is working as a nurse in the US.
(I don’t know whether they considered my father as a person or an animal. My mother died without seeing justice. I don’t want to die without seeing justice too, so I will fight for it for as long as you’re there.) – Rappler.com