MANILA, Philippines — Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 who handed down the historic verdict on the Maguindanao Massacre Thursday, 19 December 2019, explained why more than 50 accused were acquitted including two Ampatuans.
In all, Judge Reyes acquitted 56 people including former mayor Sajid Islam Ampatuan and his brother-in-law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan.
The number is more than half of the 101 suspects who stood trial for the Maguindanao massacre of November 23, 2009, where 58 people perished including 32 media workers.
Most of the 54 other suspects cleared were police officers whom the judge explained are “totally innocent” of the crimes charged.
With regards to the two Ampatuans’ acquittal, judge Reyes stressed that they could be aware of the plot to kill the victims on that fateful day but the “prosecution failed to present evidence that would prove that they committed an overt act.”
Reyes also added that “no one testified that they were present at the crime scene at the time of the massacre.”
She also said Sajid Islam’s mere presence during meetings or during the plot was being hatched do not necessarily make him a direct and liable conspirator and that Islam “never uttered words of encouragement that would influence his brothers to carry out their plan.”
Islam’s brothers, tagged as principal suspects, Andal Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan and father Anwar Ampatuan Sr., were all convicted of 57 counts of murder.
“It must be kept in mind that conspiracy must be established by positive and conclusive evidence. It cannot be based on mere conjectures but must be established as a fact,” read Reyes’ 761-page decision.
“It bears stressing that the burden lies not on the accused to prove his innocence but on the prosecution to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, for the failure of the prosecution to discharge its duty, this court has no other option except to exonerate him from the crimes charged,” her decision said.
Meanwhile, in Akmad’s case, the judge said his mere presence at the meetings will not suffice to declare that he indeed conspired with the other Ampatuans to commit the crimes charged.
Reyes explained Akmad’s supposed words agreeing to kill the victims “do not necessarily mean that he pushed for the commission of the crime,” adding that his scheduled medical mission in Mamasapano on the day of the incident “will show that he did not cling to the agreed plot to kill.”
“There is no clear and convincing evidence that will show that the accused had committed an overt act in furtherance of the agreed plan,” added Reyes.
In the case of the 53 other suspects, the judge said they were neither aware of the murder plot nor identified to be at the crime scene during the incident.
Also, Reyes said the case of the police officers were not aware that the convoy that passed their checkpoints were that of the victims following their abduction.
“It stands to reason, therefore, that while they may have heard the bursts of gunfire after said convoy had passed, their failure to report the same or respond thereto should not be taken against them, given that burst of gunfires is considered a normal occurrence in their place, the peace and order situation being one of the major problems therein since time immemorial,” the decision read.
The judge said the court is not convinced that the suspects had conspired with the principal accused as there was no convincing evidence to this effect that was presented in court.
Another suspect acquitted was Bahnarin Kamaong whose acquittal garnered confusion as his name also appeared among those who were convicted of 57 counts of murder.
Suspect Police Officer 1 Ysmael Baraquir was also freed but is still at large.
Another confusing case was that of Senior Police Officer 2 George Labayan – who was listed as among those who were “totally innocent” – was not in the dispositive portion of the decision.
It was also gathered, Judge Reyes has yet to clarify the supposed discrepancies in the next few days. (IAMIGO/CNS)