RIVERMAN’S VISTA: Layman’s guide to understanding the Ampatuan Massacre verdict (7): Conspiracy as basis of the verdict

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7th of a series

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 16 February) — Based on the volumes of exhibits and testimonies, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes classified the accused according to six categories:

In the first class belong those who had prior knowledge of the murder plot could have fired at the victims- they are guilty by direct participation. To this class belong Datu Unsay and others.

Photo of the massacre site with the abandoned backhoe at Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao afternoon of 23 November 2009. Photo from the briefing of the 601st Infantry Brigade to Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales on 24 November 2009.

To the second class belong those who performed acts outside of Sitio Masalay – they are also guilty as principals by direct participation. They are considered as principals even in their absence in the locus criminis, as their actuations had for the purpose the attainment of the common objective to kill the victims. To this class belong Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and a few others.

To the third class belong those who had prior knowledge of the crime but did not at all perform any overt act. Under this category belong Datu Akmad Tato Ampatuan and Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan. They were seen to have attended the Century Park Hotel meeting but not one of the eyewitnesses has seen them in the crime site. However, Sajid’s presence in the meeting without uttering any words of encouragement that served to embolden and encourage does not make him a co-conspirator.

To the fourth class belong those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot but participated in the actual killing of the victims. They are likewise guilty by direct participation.

The fifth class are those who had no prior knowledge of the murder plot but were still identified or had performed overt acts – the court is of the view that they should be made liable as accessories.

Finally, those who did not at all perform overt acts. The court ruled that they are totally innocent of the crimes.

Was conspiracy established by the prosecution? Yes.

In the 2014 case of People vs Villalba, the Supreme Court observed that: “Jurisprudence requires that conspiracy must be proven as the crime itself. Conspiracy exists when two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a crime and decide to commit it. Proof of the agreement need not rest on direct evidence, as the same may be inferred from the conduct of the parties indicating a common understanding among them with respect to the commission of the offense. It is not necessary to show that two or more persons met together and entered into an explicit agreement setting out the details of an unlawful scheme or the details by which an illegal objective is to be carried out. The rule is that conviction is proper upon proof that the accused acted in concert, each of them doing his part to fulfill the common design to kill the victim.”

In another case (People vs Jesalva) decided in 2017, the Court pointed out that: conspiracy exists where two or more persons come to an agreement concerning the commission of a felony and decide to commit it. Thus, the essence of conspiracy is the unity of action and purpose.

The Court also said that direct proof is not needed to prove conspiracy for it may be deduced from the acts of the accused before, during and after the commission of the crime charged, from which it may be indicated that there is a common purpose to commit the crime. But it also clarified that it is not sufficient that the attack be joint and simultaneous for “simultaneousness does not of itself demonstrate the concurrence of will or unity of action and purpose which are the bases of the responsibility of the assailants”. What is essential is that the accused are animated by one and the same purpose.

Finally, in People vs Jesalva, the Court emphasized that to be a conspirator, one need not participate in every detail of the execution; in fact, he need not even take part in every act. According to the Court: “Each conspirator can do separate and different tasks which may appear unrelated to one another but, in fact, constitute a whole collective effort to achieve their common criminal objective. And then once conspiracy is shown, the act of one is the act of all the conspirators. In this regard, the precise extent or modality of participation of each of them becomes secondary, since all the conspirators are principals.”

Based on overwhelming evidence, the prosecution has established that the death of 57 victims resulted from a conspiracy to kill them.

Direct evidence exists to prove that on the evening of July 20, 2009, a meeting was conducted at Century Park Hotel in Manila depicting that ose who attended the meeting wanted to prevent Toto Mangudadatu from running for governor and even to kill him so that political power would remain in the hands of the Ampatuans. Four days later, unrefuted is the fact that Sukarno Badal received rifles to be used to implement the plot.

A week before the killings, the Ampatuans had a meeting at the purok at the farm of Datu Andal Sr., the witness recalled that at the meeting, the possible locations of the filing of the Certificate of Candidacy (COC) were assigned to different persons, the killing will be committed by several armed men, and the bodies and vehicles would be buried using a backhoe.

On November 19, another meeting was held where in the participants discussed that Toto Mangudadatu will pass by Malating; would have armed escorts; a Sanguku will be used; that in the event Datu Toto did not himself file the COC, whoever files the COC would be killed.

Most important of all, the conspiracy was carried out on November 23, 2009 and the result is the Ampatuan massacre. (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)





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