TIMELINE: The long road to justice for Maguindanao massacre victims

Sofia Tomacruz

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TIMELINE: The long road to justice for Maguindanao massacre victims
(5th UPDATE) It's been 10 years since 58 people – including 32 media workers – were killed in Maguindanao

MANILA, Philippines (5th UPDATE) – Saturday, November 23, marks 10 years since 58 people were killed as they were on their way to the provincial capitol in Ampatuan, Maguindanao in 2009. 

Out of the total victims, 32 were journalists making it the single deadliest attack against journalists, aside from being the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history. 

Families and advocates have called out the judiciary for the slow pace of the murder trials. Eight years on, however, not one of the 188 individuals officially charged have been convicted. One of the primary suspects, former Maguindanao provincial governor Andal Ampatuan Sr died in July 2015. 

In October 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte created the presidential task force on media killings which lists among its priorities the Maguindanao Massacre convictions. 

Here’s a timeline that lays out the events from when the massacre occurred to latest updates on the trials. This will be updated as more developments occur. 


November 23, 2009 

A total of 58 people are killed in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Most of the victims were part of a convoy to the provincial capitol to file the certificate of candidacy of Esmael Mangudadatu for governor, making it as the worst case of election-related violence in Philippine history. 

The incident is considered the single deadliest attack against the media, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), as the victims included 32 journalists.

The powerful Ampatuan clan is suspected to have plotted the attack with the intention of deralling the gubernatorial candidacy of Mangudadatu. 

November 24, 2009 

After ordering law enforcers to catch the perpetrators, then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo places the provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City under a state of emergency via Proclamation No. 1946 to “prevent and suppress the occurrence of similar other incidents.” 

November 26, 2009

Then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr turns himself in to then presidential adviser for Mindanao affairs Jesus Dureza. From General Santos City, he is flown to Manila and detained at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). 

December 1, 2009

The Department of Justice files 25 counts of murder against Ampatuan Jr and a batch of “information” against him at the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court (RTC).  

December 2, 2009 

Police discover a large arms cache in the mansion of Andal Ampatuan Sr. 

December 5, 2009

Maguindanao is placed under martial law through Proclamation No. 1959. Several more suspects are arrested – including Ampatuan Sr and Zaldy Ampatuan.

December 8, 2009

The Maguinanao massacre case is transferred to Quezon City as granted by the Supreme Court en banc. On December 15, the case is initially raffled to Judge Luisito Cortez but he refuses to take it on, fearing for the safety of his family and staff. It is eventually re-raffled to Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of Quezon City RTC in December 


January 5, 2010 

Ampatuan Jr is arraigned and pleads not guilty to 48 counts of murder. An additional 15 counts of murder are filed on February 3.  

February 9, 2010 

A Manila panel files 56 amended murder informations against Ampatuan Jr and 196 accused – including Ampatuan Sr.  

March 10, 2010 

An administrative complaint is filed before the National Police Commision (Napolcom) which seeks to dismiss 20 policemen and suspend 11. 

March 25, 2010 

The court orders the mass arrest of 196 suspects. It also dismisses the charges of rebellion against the Ampatuan clan days after.

June 14, 2010 

Suwaib“Jessie” Upham, a prosecution witness who claims to have knowledge of the massacre, is killed by unidentified gunmen in Parang, Maguindanao.


March 9, 2011 

Then justice secretary Leila de Lima issues Department Order No. 172 which places new individuals in the prosecution panel. She says this was to prevent the “rift” among those involved from worsening, adding that the original members of the panel “lacked zeal.”  

June 9, 2011 

Andal Ampatuan Sr is arraigned and pleads not guilty. 

June 14, 2011

The Supreme Court allows live media coverage of the Maguindanao massacre trial. Coverage guidelines, however, are also released.  


MEMORIAL. A memorial stands to remember the victims. File photo by Rappler

March 2012

Private prosecutor Nena Santos announces that state witness Esmael Enog is killed. During the trial, he testifies that he drove at least 36 armed men in two batches to the site of the killings.

September 2012 

The prosecution files charges in relation to the murder of Reynaldo Momay – the 58th victim.

October 23, 2012 

The Supreme Court reverses its earlier decision to allow live media coverage of the trial. It grants the motion for reconsideration of the Ampatuan camp after Andal Ampatuan Jr, one of the principal accused, argues that showing the proceedings live violated his right to due process.

December 13, 2012

Zaldy Ampatuan is arraigned and pleads not guilty to the murder charges.


December 10, 2013  

The Supreme Court issues guidelines seeking to experdite the Maguindanao massacre trial proceedings.

In a resolution, the High Court directs the presiding judge to require remaining witnesses from both the prosecution and defense panels to submit judicial affidavits instead of direct testimonies at least 10 days before the scheduled date of testimony.

Under the new rules, the presiding judge is authorized to issue separate decisions for issues which are “ripe for resolution” and hold separate trials of the accused. A 3rd assisting judge will also be appointed for the trial. (READ: SC issues new guidelines to expedite Ampatuan trial)


March 2014

The prosecution rests its case against 28 suspects.

June 2014  

The Fortun, Narvasa and Salazar law firm formally informs QC RTC Branch 221 of their withdrawal as counsel of the Ampatuans. In an interview with the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), lawyer Sigfrid Fortun cites “potential conflict.” 

September 2014 

Then lawyer (and now presidential legal counsel) Salvador Panelo joins Ampatuan Jr’s legal team. Philippine Star article quotes him as saying that the Ampatuans were just “framed to seize political power.” In 2015, he withdrew due to “personal reasons”.

Meanwhile, Firdausi Abbas becomes Ampatuan Sr’s new counsel. 

October 13, 2014 

QC RTC Branch 221 grants the petition for bail of 16 police officers accused, with bail set at P11.6 million for all. 

November 18, 2014 

A witness in the Maguindanao massacre case is killed and another wounded in an ambush in Shariff Aguak town. Dennix Sakal, who died from multiple gunshot wounds, and Butch Saudagal were both former employees of Ampatuan Jr, the prime suspect in the case.


January 9, 2015 

TEMPORARY FREEDOM. Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan is shown here during a grand welcome by supporters in Cotabato City in May 2015 after posting an P11.6-million bail. File photo by Jef Maitem

QC RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes grants the bail petition of Sajid Islam Ampatuan, the son of Andal Ampatuan Sr, and one of the alleged masterminds of the Maguindanao massacre. She, however, denies the bail petitions of another Ampatuan son, Anwar Ampatuan Sr, and his son-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan. 

In the decision, Solis-Reyes rules that the prosecution failed to establish strong evidence that would warrant Sajid’s continued detention while trial is ongoing. His bail is set at P200,000 per murder count – a total of P11.6 million for the 58 counts filed before the court.

He posts bail and is granted temporary freedom two months after, on March 9, 2015. 

April 24, 2015

Solis-Reyes denies the bail plea of Andal Ampatuan Sr, saying that the court found that the evidence of guilt against him “is strong and that there was also evidence that he monitored the execution through “numerous phone and radio calls” and “supposedly also tried to orchestrate the escape of the men in Sitio Amasalay.” 

July 17, 2015

DEAD. Local officials visit the grave of Andal Ampatuan Sr. File photo by Jeff Maitem/Rappler

Family patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr passes away after being confined at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute in Quezon City. He is confined for almost two months since complaining of abdominal pains.

September 15, 2015 

The court denies the petition for bail of Zaldy Ampatuan. 

December 9, 2015 

Napolcom expels 20 policemen and suspends 11. The 20 policemen are found to have “conspired with Andal Ampatuan Jr and his armed men in carrying out the massacre” while the 11 are suspended for “less grave neglect of duty.”


June 2016

Presentation of defense evidence starts. 

August 25, 2016

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno says the Maguindanao massacre trial may soon be in the homestretch as “proceedings have already reached the hearing on the evidence-in-chief. “

November 15, 2016

The second batch of the defense’s formal offer of evidence (FOEs), with 45 of the accused involved, is resolved The initial presentation of their defense evidence is set to start on January 19, 2017.


February 2017 

The Court of Appeals affirms QC RTC Branch 221’s decision to grant Sajid Ampatuan bail. 

May 30, 2017

Andal Ampatuan Jr’s bail is denied. It is affirmed in October 2017.

November 20, 2017

Undersecretary Joel Egco, head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, says the court decision on Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr and Anwar Ampatuan Sr can be expected as early as first quarter of 2018. (READ: Convictions for 2 Maguindanao massacre suspects expected in 2018)

“We expect it, of course. Our best guess is probably within the first quarter or second, probably of the next year,” Egco says.


February 26, 2018

The CA affirms QC RTC Branch 221’s decision to allow 16 policemen bail. The trial court previously allowed the policemen’s petition for bail in October 2014.

The prosecution had earlier linked the 16 cops to the massacre and said they guarded the checkpoints leading to the crime scene. However, both the CA and QC RTC said the prosecution had insufficient evidence to back this claim.

April 18, 2018

The CA denies the bail petition of Zaldy Ampatuan and upholds the Quezon City Regional Trial Court’s earlier decision that found strong evidence of guilt.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of QC RTC 221 earlier ruled that the testimonies of witnesses pointing to Ampatuan’s participation in a series of supposed meetings to plan the massacre are strong evidence of guilt.

June 19, 2018

Then presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the prosecution panel in the Maguindanao massacre case to ensure partial ruling for some of the accused by the end of 2018.

July 10, 2018

The CA upholds an order prohibiting Police Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, Police Office 1 Rainier Ebus, and Mohammad Sangki from turning into state witnesses.

August 21, 2018

Zaldy Ampatuan is allowed to leave jail to attend his daughter’s wedding. (WATCH: Why Ampatuan was allowed to leave jail)

Bureau of Jail Management and Penology Spokesperson Xavier Solda says Ampatuan was able to do this by securing a court order for him to leave detention from 4 pm to 7 pm.

The BJMP adds it has no information on which court allowed Ampatuan to celebrate outside jail or who his daughter is.


August 24, 2018

Maguindanao 2nd District Representative Zajid “Dong” Mangudadatu says his clan is in “deep pain” over the court decision to allow Ampatuan to leave jail to attend his daughter’s wedding.

“The Ampatuans have taken so much from the families of the 58 victims, we will not let them keep taking from us every time they are out from prison,” he said.

September 13, 2018

Then presidential spokesperson Harry Roque says he’ll ask President Rodrigo Duterte to meet with the prosecutor panel of the case amid delays in the trial. 

September 30, 2018

The Philippine Star reports that one witness, Thonti Lawani, recanted his testimony against the primary suspects and claims he was pressured to testify. 

November 5, 2018

Ampatuan Jr submits his formal offer of evidence before the QC RTC.


May 13, 2019

Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, one of the principle suspects, is elected as mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao.

July 17, 2019

Trial ends after almost 10 years.  

August 22, 2019

Court declares the massacre case submitted for decision.

October 14, 2019

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of QC RTC 221 formally dismisses cases against suspects who died during the trial proper, including Andal Ampatuan Sr who died in 2015.

October 21, 2019

Zaldy Ampatuan is admitted to a hospital due to alleged heart ailment. 

November 7, 2019

The Supreme Court grants Judge Reyes’ request to extend by 30 days, or until December, the promulgation of judgment. 

December 19, 2019 

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 finds 28 people, including  including masterminds Datu Andal Jr and Zaldy Ampatuan, guilty of murder, sentencing them to reclusion perpetua or a maximum of 40 years, without parole.

A total of 56 people, including Maguindanao town mayor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, were acquitted.

 – with reports from Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler.com

This timeline will be updated as more developments occur. 

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.