RIVERMAN’S VISTA: Layman’s guide to understanding the Ampatuan Massacre verdict (6): The Defense of the Accused

6th of a series

CAGAYAN DE ORO (MindaNews / 12 Feb)In his defense, accused Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., relying on the defense of alibi and denial, presented 22 rebuttal and sur-rebuttal witnesses in his bid at exoneration. Basically, the defense witnesses tried to impugn the testimony of the key prosecution witness, Lakmodin Saliao and gave testimony in support of Datu Unsay’s alibi.

Relatives of victims of the Ampatuan Massacre burn giant portraits of members of the Ampatuan clan during a visit at the massacre site in Masalay, Ampatuan town in Maguindanao on Sunday, 18 Nov 2018, five days before the ninth anniversary of the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media. MindaNews photo by BOBBY TIMONERA

One defense witness, Bai Ameerah Ampatuan Mamalapat, daughter of Andal Sr., refuted prosecution witness’ Saliao claim that he worked for her from 1995 to 2009. She also claimed that Saliao lied when he said that he worked for Andal Sr. as a personal assistant starting November 2009 as he never worked for her father. She also belied Saliao’s claim that he was in Shariff Aguak on November 17, 2009 at the house of Zaldy Ampatuan attending a meeting regarding the crimes with Datu Andal Jr. She disputed the witness’ claim that he was at the rest house on November 23, 2009 and mansion of Andal Sr. as the witness was with her in her house on that date. She characterized Saliao as a talkative person, fond of sowing intrigues among his co-workers that resulted to quarrels among them. This was corroborated by witness Teng Sali who stated in open court that Saliao was never the personal assistant of Andal Sr. or that the former gave the latter his food and medicines. 

Nikardo Malang, who worked as household help of Bai Ammerah since December 2008, stated that it was Bai Ameerah or Andal’s nurse who brought food to Andal Sr. contrary to Saliao’s claim. He echoed the claim of Bai Ameerah that Saliao was not at the mansion on November 22, 2009.

One other witness who belied the testimony of Saliao was Alibai Sakal Ampatuan, wife of accused Datu Andal Sr. She stated that Saliao falsely testified on the activities of Datu Andal Sr. She stated that throughout the day of November 23, Andal Sr. did not talk to Datu Unsay or Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr. She also stated that Saliao could not have used the cellphone of Datu Andal as the latter did not entrust it to a helper. This was corroborated by another witness Micko Sakal Ampatuan, son of Andal Sr.

Feliciana Ong, Acting chief, certification section of the Bureau of Immigration, presented evidence that she issued certification and clearance regarding the travels of Datu Unsay showing that he left the Philippines on November 9, 2009 and arrived in the country on November 18, 2009. 

Datu Anwar Ipi Upam Ampatuan stated in his judicial affidavit that there was no conspiracy meeting held on November 17 because Datu Andal Sr. was in Davao on that day, having arrived only at 11:30 in Shariff Aguak. He also denied having attended that meeting and narrated that he and his uncle, Datu Unsay, arrived in the Philippines from the USA only on November 18, 2009. 

Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., testifying for himself, said that on November 17, 2009 he and his nephew were on board Philippine Airlines flight PR 102 from Los Angeles and arrived in Manila on November 18. According to Datu Unsay, on November 22, at around 8 p.m., he was having dinner at his house and slept early for he had a scheduled meeting the following day. On November 23, he conducted a meeting with local officials. As proof he identified in open court the minutes of the meeting. He insisted that upon his arrival in Manila from the USA he went straight to Cotabato. 

Abedin Alamada, one of the accused, stated in his judicial affidavit that as one of the councilors of the Municipality of Datu Unsay he attended the meeting on November 23, 2009 at the local municipal hall. According to him, at no point in that meeting did he see Datu Unsay leave the premises.

Sammy Kali also testified that it was impossible for accused Datu Unsay Jr. to be the prime suspect in these cases because he was with the latter the whole time in the meeting at the Municipal Hall on November 23, 2009. He further claimed that the meeting started at around 8 a.m. and ended at 12 noon and Datu Unsay Jr. never left the premises. 

Thonti Lawani recanted his testimony in support of the prosecution case that he saw Datu Unsay giving orders to his men and commanders. At that time, he lied in open court because he was afraid for himself and his family.

Also supporting Datu Unsay’s alibi, Mohamad Shamron Sapalon testified that on November 23, 2009 he went to the municipal hall to ask for financial assistance. He saw Datu Unsay arrive at around 7 a.m. and he was made to wait. Until 12 noon when he was told that Datu Unsay would see him. Thereat, he was given 3,000 pesos. After Datu Unsay left at around 12:30, he also left. 

Aside for Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., other accused namely: Datu Zaldy Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Datu Anwar “Datu Ipi” Ampatuan Jr., Datu Anwar Sajid “Datu Ulo” Ampatuan, Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, accused police officers and members of the 1508 Police Mobile Group, also gave their testimonies and presented their own witnesses. Most, if not all the accused, sought their exoneration by relying on the defense of alibi and denial. 

Datu Zaldy Ampatuan presented his daughter who testified upon the activities of her father from November 21-23, 2009. Others who gave their testimonies in defense of the accused was the cook who claimed that in the morning of November 23 she prepared the bags of the accused who told her that he has a morning flight to Manila. Another witness, P03 Datuali Amigos Ali, one of the security escorts assigned to the accused, maintained in his testimony that he (the witness) was with Zaldy Ampatuan in the latter’s house on November 22, from morning until around 3:00 p.m. According to the witness, the accused stayed in the house and never left the whole day. The witness recalled that early the following morning acused left for the airport on his way to Manila. Brothers Ahmad Omar and Maulana Omar stated that on November 23, 2009, they met with Zaldy Ampatuan at the Century Park Hotel a little over 9 a.m. then they proceeded to Malacanang to attend a meeting with then President Gloria Arroyo. One Fabian Fabian gave testimony regarding the flight details with the Philippine Airlines. He found that the Philippine Airlines had a record, under the name of Zaldy Ampatuan, for a flight from Davao to Manila dated November 23, 2009.

Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr. former mayor of Shariff Aguak and son of Datu Andal Sr. testifying on his behalf, claimed that he was presiding the Regular Session of the Sangguniang Bayan on November 23 being the mayor of Shariff Aguak from October 2005 to June 30, 2010. He likewise denied attending all the meetings to kill the Mangudadatus on November 17 and 22, 2009. In support of his testimony, the accused presented corroborating witnesses as to his whereabouts on these dates.

Another principal accused Datu Anwar “Datu Ipi” Ampatuan, Jr., son of Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., denied having attended the meeting of November 16 because he left for the United States on November 9 and returned to the Philippines only on November 18, 2009. On the day of the massacre, he alleged that he attended the Regular Session of the Sangguniang Bayan. A number of witnesses were presented to corroborate his testimony.

A similar testimony was given by Datu Anwar “Datu Ipi’ Ampatuan Jr. who stated that on November 23, he, together with his father and brother, were in the Municipal Hall of Shariff Aguak to attend the regular session presided by his father. A number of corroborating witnesses were presented by the accused.

A similar alibi was presented by accused Datu Anwar Sajid “Datu Ulo” Ampatuan, son of Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., who claimed that on November 23, 2009 he was at the Municipal Hall of Shariff Aguak to attend the regular session.

Other accused, such as Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, gave their testimony in support of their alibi and presented witnesses to corroborate these assertions.

Seeking to be discharged as State Witness, accused PO1 Reinier Ebus alleged that he was a member of the Philippine National Police with specific assignment as escort of Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. He claimed that from what he heard from the men of Datu Unsay, the members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization, will prevent then Vice Mayor Toto Mangudadatu from filing his certificate of candidacy. He can remember that since November 19 all police officers were placed on alert status. He recalled that on the day of tha killings, he, together with police officers joined a convoy going to Crossing Saniag in Sitio Malating. In one of the checkpoints, he saw Datu Unsay and his men hitting the passengers who were on board six vehicles and were made to alight. At Sitio Masalay, Datu Unsay asked the passengers to disembark and said that he (witness) will be the one to shoot those people. Witness was not able to do anything because he got afraid sensing that Datu Unsay really meant what he said. Before all the passengers could disembark, Datu Unsay and the others started shooting them.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes listened to all these testimonies, including the cross examination of the witnesses. In the final columns, I will summarize how she appreciated the evidence. (To be continued)

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao)