MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Datu Akmad "Tato" Ampatuan, son-in-law of the Ampatuan pariarch Datu Andal Sr, was among the 56* acquitted in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre despite presence and participation in a meeting to plan the murders.
(*Editor's Note: We earlier reported 55 were acquitted because P/Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong was announced as among those convicted. Kamaong's name also appears on the list of the acquitted. We are still awaiting explanation from the court.)
The 74-year-old senior Ampatuan, said to be the mastermind of the massacre, died while on trial. Already battling liver cancer, he suffered a massive heart attack and died in July 2015.
“Pakinggan natin si Ama. Okay kami lahat na patayin sila (Let's listen to father, we're okay with killing them all),” Tato said in one meeting.
"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),” he said in another conversation.
"The fact that he uttered the following at the meeting does not necessarily mean that he pushed for the commission of the crime, which prima facie, may suffice to find a strong evidence of guilt," said Reyes.
"In the absence of evidence pointing to the accused as being present at the crime site, the court is convinced that he cannot be made criminally liable under the circumstance even with the utterances he made sans overt acts," added Reyes.
A total of 58 people died, 32 of them journalists who joined the convoy that planned to file the certificate of candidacy of then-Maguindanao governor aspirant Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu. He was up against Datu Andal Jr Ampatuan for the post. Andal Jr was convicted and sentenced to reclusion perpetua without the benefit of parole.
Tato was not at the massacre site on November 23, 2009, as he was attending a medical mission at the municipal gymnasium in Mamasapano, Maguindanao.
"His having attended a medical mission for the whole day will show that he did not cling to the agreed plot to kill," said Reyes.
"There is no clear and convincing evidence that will show that accused had committed an overt act in furtherance of the agreed plan," Reyes added.
Tato's active participation in the pre-massacre meeting was not enough to convict him, even though Judge Reyes sentenced backhoe operator Bong Andal to 6-10 years in prison for "neglecting to tell authorities" about the massacre.