In a statement released on the eve of the commemoration of the ninth anniversary of the massacre of 58 people—including 32 journalists—the families of those slain said news that the case against Andal Jr. has been submitted for resolution by Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of the Quezon City regional trial court Branch 211 was a welcome development.
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“We meet this news with renewed vigor and relief, for we have waited too long and have given so much to the case over the years. We have full confidence that the evidence presented is enough to prove Datu Unsay’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, and we await the verdict with cautious hope,” they said, referring to Andal Jr. by his nickname.
They said the decision would go down in Philippine history as one of the most significant legal decisions, regardless of the outcome.
Early this week, acting Prosecutor General Richard Anthony Fadullon said he received the information from prosecutors handling the case against Andal Jr. that it is now submitted for decision.
With this development, the court is expected to set the promulgation of the case, where Solis Reyes will decide whether to convict or acquit Ampatuan and the other accused.
“The court has yet to set the date of promulgation, which will cover Unsay and all other accused—except those who were belatedly arrested,” Fadullon said.
Earlier, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra expressed confidence that the case remained on track to be completed this year.
Prosecutors were confident they had built a solid case, despite the recantation of one of their witnesses, Thonti Lawani, on Ampatuan’s involvement in the massacre.
Lawani claimed he was pressured by the family of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu into saying that he saw Ampatuan giving orders to his commanders at a crossing in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town on the day of the massacre and that he also saw the convoy of vehicles going toward the hilly portion of the area where the killings took place.
Mangudadatu lost his wife, Bai Genalyn and several other relatives in the massacre.
Guevarra played down the recantation, saying it would not weaken the government’s case against Ampatuan and his co-accused.
Gilbert Andres, one of the victim’s lawyers, urged the government to find and arrest the suspects who were still at large, nine years after the massacre.
“Seventy suspects in the Ampatuan massacre are still at large. We are calling on the Philippine National Police and the DILG for their arrest, so that we can have a complete trial of all the accused in the Maguindanao massacre case,” Andres said.
The lawyer said it was important for the victim’s families that evidence has been presented against the accused who have been arrested and tried.
“As to what will happen, we just leave it... to providence and to our courts of justice. We leave it up to God because we can only do so much,,” he added.
Aside from Andal Jr, also facing the same charges are Zaldy Ampatuan and another sibling, Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan though he was allowed to post bail by the court in January 2015.
The court also allowed 42 policemen-suspects to post bail, each set at P11.6 million, but only Sajid was able to come up with the amount and gain his temporary liberty.
Another accused, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. died in detention on July 17, 2015.
Nena Santos, a private prosecutor for the relatives of the victims, said she believed the judge would rule “in favor of the victims.”
A source from Branch 221 handling the Maguindanao murder charges told the Manila Standard that the judge would come up with a summary of the case over the week, affirming that Judge Jocelyn Reyes would come up with a “summary” of the case over the week, indicating that it was close to being wrapped up.
Ampatuan Jr., former Datu Unsay mayor; his late father Andal Ampatuan Sr., former Maguindanao governor; Zaldy Ampatuan, ex-Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor, and the other Ampatuan family members were tagged as the principal suspects behind the deaths of 58 people.
On Nov. 23, 2009, the wife, sisters and election lawyer of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, along with the other victims, were on their way to Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy in the 2010 gubernatorial election when they were attacked, killed and buried in mass graves.
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