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Verdict worth 10-year wait—prosecutors

The members of the Department of Justice prosecution panel on Thursday said they were happy with the judgment rendered by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court on the Maguindanao massacre case, which resulted in the conviction of 28 principal accused in the mass killing of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists.

Speaking on behalf of the 10-man prosecution panel, Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon said the DOJ prosecutors were satisfied with the decision by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, but they acknowledged that their work is not yet over.

“Although some of the accused were acquitted, it does not mean that the prosecution failed. Of course, in a way we’re happy with the decision that was rendered,” Fadullon said in a press conference.

In her 761-page decision, the Quezon City RTC found 28 of the 197 accused guilty, including the eight members of the influential Ampatuan clan. They were found guilty for 57 counts of murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison without parole.

However, 15 of the accused were sentenced to six to 10 years of imprisonment for being accessories to the crime. Fifty-six of the accused were acquitted, including four Ampatuan family members: Jonathan, Jimmy, Datu Akmad Tato, and Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan.

Fadullon said the prosecution will review the decision and regroup after the holidays to study their next legal action.

“I think it is premature for us (to say that more accused should have been convicted) considering that the decision is 700 plus pages. We would go over the decision. The prosecution panel knows the evidence it presented in the course of the trial. I think we have an inkling who we think (should be convicted) or what is the justification why they were acquitted. Then and only then would we make a decision really how many we would be moving for reconsideration. Just give us a little time to browse over the decision because it’s a bit long,” Fadullon said.

“It is important to emphasize that the role of the prosecutor is not to make sure that everybody who is charged is convicted but make sure that justice is done. And I think to that extent, the prosecution panel has done its job to make sure that justice is served,” he said.

While they cannot appeal the acquittals of more than 50 accused as this would be double jeopardy, the senior state prosecutor said they can ask the court to review its decision through certiorari within 60 days.

City Prosecutor Amor Robles, who led the 10-man prosecution panel, said the decision was worth the 10-year wait.

“I think there were several prosecution panels created to handle this case from day one to today, and we can safely say that our prosecution evidence is intact, solid and whatever the outcome I think justice was really, actually served.”

The prosecutors also thanked Reyes for her dedication and commitment, enduring all the 10 years of the trial.

Other members of the prosecution panel were Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Ma. Emilia Victorio, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor, Olivia Torrevillas, Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Teofel Austria,

Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Susan Villanueva, Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Arthur Velasco, Assistant State Prosecutor Rodan Parrocha, Assistant State Prosecutor Michael John Humarang, Assistant State Prosecutor Moises Acayan, and Assistant Prosecution Attorney II Jerome Coronel.

Robles thanked all past and current members of the prosecution panel who endured the decade-long trial, former and current DOJ officials and the National Bureau of Investigation for their security.

Lawmakers led by Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost a wife and a sister in the massacre, welcomed the conviction of the principal perpetrators of the mass murder.

But many of them said the quest for justice is just half through since those convicted can still file motions for reconsideration at the Regional Trial Court in Quezon City, or appeal the decision before the Court of Appeals.

“I, my children, siblings, and relatives as well in behalf of families who lost their loved ones are grateful for your prayers and support that enabled us to get justice after 10 years,” Mangudadatu said in Filipino,.

“Although some of the accused were acquitted, we are happy that those who are supposed to be punished were meted out life imprisonment.”

Dasmarinas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said the authorities should look further into the case of the 80 accused who remain at large.

In a decade of hearings, a total of 357 witnesses were heard by Reyes with the case record reaching up to 238 volumes—all consolidated in a 761-paged decision.

Barzaga commended the legal prowess, commitment, and bravery of Reyes who decided the case despite threats to her life and members of her family.

But he also said the convictions would “surely be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court with process taking years again.”

He called for the judiciary to adopt measures that will expedite legal proceedings and improve the administration of justice.

Rep. Ron Salo of the party-list group Kabayan said the Ampatuan massacre “is a triumph of justice and the rule of law, and a clear reminder that no one is above the law, no matter how powerful, influential, or wealthy. Indeed, we are a society governed by laws, not by men.”

Salo said the massacre should also push the Congress to work on and pass laws to protect journalists in conflict zones, election hotspots, and “battlegrounds of criminality.”

Ako Bicol party-list group legislators meanwhile said the legislature “must find ways to bar criminal warlords from running for all public positions whether appointive or elective.”

Ako Bicol Reps. Alfredo Garbin and Elizaldy Co, meanwhile, filed House Bill 553 that declares Nov. 23 of every year as Philippines Press Freedom Day.

Mangudadatu on Thursday vowed to pursue the murder case against Sajid Ampatuan, incumbent mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha, who was acquitted of multiple murder charges by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.

Mangudadatu said his lawyers will study the decision rendered by Reyes, which cleared Ampatuan of criminal liability.

Mangudadatu noted that Sajid, son of Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr, was granted bail in 2015 before witnesses linking him to the slaughter came forward.

“Before he was granted bail, his case was not that heavy. It gained weight with the arrival of the statements of other witnesses. We will find a remedy for that,” he said.

Complying with Reyes’s order, the Philippine National Police said it will launch a massive manhunt for the 80 at large co-accused in the Maguindanao massacre.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday welcomed the verdict, saying that “finally, justice has been served.”

Senator Grace Poe said justice finally came to the families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.

“We hail the court for siding with truth. We salute the prosecution team and the witnesses for their unwavering courage. We stand with the families of the victims and support groups for their fortitude,” she said. 

Senator Richard J. Gordon commended Reyes for finally bringing closure to the Maguindanao massacre case.

“Judge Reyes deserves to be commended for continuing with the case to its conclusion after she took over from another QC judge. The judge displayed her commitment to fulfilling her duty to dispense justice fairly even in the face of considerable intimidation,” he said.

Senator Francisco Pangilinan said the Ampatuan ruling is a warning to other mass murderers. 

“The killing of the innocent, the slaughter of the hapless, mass murder must be, will be punished,” he said.

Senator Joel Villanueva said the decision restores faith in the justice system.

“I salute Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes for her dedication and her courage to stand for what is right and just,” he said. “This has been a day too long in coming, but it is a step towards the full measure of justice.” With MJ Blancaflor and PNA

READ: Missing victim gets no justice

Topics: Department of Justice , Quezon City Regional Trial Court , Maguindanao massacre
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