A Quezon City judge on Tuesday granted a three-hour furlough to a principal accused in the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre case despite strong objections from government prosecutors.
Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City RTC, Branch 221 granted former governor Zaldy Ampatuan a three-hour furlough from his detention at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City to allow him to attend the wedding of his daughter Bay Nor Aila Kristina Tuesday afternoon at a five-star hotel in Pasay City.
In the order released by the Justice department Wednesday, the judge cited humanitarian considerations in granting Ampatuan’s plea.
“The court is of the view that despite being a… prisoner having certain restrictions, accused-movant may be allowed to attend his eldest daughter’s wedding, which, in our culture, is a significant milestone to be cherished and remembered,” the court ruled.
“It is a momentous family occasion which must be witnessed and attended by the couple’s loved ones, especially the accused-movant who will personally bring his eldest daughter to the altar,” it said.
The DoJ panel earlier opposed the furlough, arguing that Ampatuan could not “equate himself with those who have not transgressed the law.”
The prosecutors also cited the court’s earlier ruling denying a similar plea of the accused to attend the graduation of his eldest son in Cotabato City.
In granting furlough to the detained former governor, the RTC ordered the head of the Quezon City Jail annex in Camp Bagong Diwa to ensure that the accused was escorted to and from the event and to immediately transport him back to the detention facility after the lapse of the period granted.
The judge also required Ampatuan to shoulder all expenses for his furlough.
It was not the first time Ampatuan was granted relief by the RTC. He was also given furlough to attend the graduation of another child in a university in Quezon City.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra lamented the judge’s decision.
The criminal cases against Ampatuan and 194 other accused have been submitted for decision by the court, except for the cases of the principal accused Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and two others.
Guevarra earlier vowed resolution of the multiple murder cases by next year.
He said the RTC where 197 accused are standing trial for the killing of 58 people, is “now winding up with the trial of this case.”
As of November last year, the RTC has already heard a total of 273 witnesses: 166 prosecution witnesses, and 107 defense witnesses. The court has resolved all the 15 sets of a formal offer of evidence in connection with the bail applications of 70 accused. It has also resolved all bail applications of the accused, including that of Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., which was denied in May.
The RTC may render judgment separately on each accused and not wait for all the accused to conclude presenting their evidence.
Four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., died while in detention while four of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the trial court.
The murder cases involve 58 victims (including 32 media practitioners), 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuan), with 115 already arrested the latest of which was Jonathan Engid, who was arrested last February.
The proceedings are being attended by a panel of 10 public prosecutors, eight private prosecutors, and 23 defense lawyers while the transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 59 volumes. The records of the cases are 129 volumes thick, with 10 volumes comprising the prosecution’s evidence.
THE National Union Journalists of the Philippines on Wednesday said the prosecutors handling the Maguindanao massacre case have a lot of explaining to do over the furlough granted to one of its principal suspects.
“At the very least, the prosecution owes the public a full account and credible explanation,” it said.
The group questioned the prosecution panel for failure to block the request of Ampatuan to attend his daughter’s wedding at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel Manila in Pasay City last Aug. 21.
The public came to know about it when Basilan Rep. Ruby Shahli posted on social media a picture of herself with Ampatuan, it said.
“The caption read: ‘Alhamdulilla with my former boss former RG Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan during the wedding ceremony of his eldest daughter Bai Nur Aila.”
The lawmaker also posted a video from the wedding.
“While we may understand a parent’s desire to be present at such an important milestone in the life of a child, we stress that the crime of which Mr. Ampatuan is accused of is of such a heinous nature that the shock and outrage it stirred around the world forced then President Gloria Arroyo to move against the powerful clan that was among her staunchest allies,” the NUJP statement read.
“Almost nine years after the rampage that claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, no one has yet been convicted. Yet a principal accused, Sajid Ampatuan, was granted bail. That and now this, we feel, gives us and the victims’ families more than enough cause to worry about whether we can truly expect justice for this most grievous of crimes,” it said.
On Nov. 23, 2009, the wife of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu and the other 57 victims were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy in Shariff Aguak when armed men abducted and killed them.
Then Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons were charged with multiple murder. With Rio N. Araja