DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 16 December) – Relatives of the media victims of the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre who can’t make it to Taguig City in Metro Manila will gather in General Santos City on Thursday, December 19, to watch the televised promulgation of judgment on the 58 counts of murder filed against 197 persons, including members of the Ampatuan clan that dominated Maguindanao politics until a decade ago.
Venue for the viewing is still being finalized, Dabet Panelo, Secretary-General of the National Union of Journalists of the Phlippines (NUJP) told MindaNews on Monday.
The Supreme Court granted the petition filed by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippine Press Institute, and print, television, radio, and online news agencies across the country to allow “live coverage and streaming” of the promulgation of judgment on the Ampatuan Massacre cases on December 19.
The petition noted that in the last 10 years, the widows and orphans of the 58 victims of the Ampatuan massacre, most of them based in Mindanao, have only been able to follow the trial via post-hearing reports and off-court broadcast by the news media.
According to the petition, allowing live coverage would allow families unable to travel to Manila to immediately know the decision of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Regional Trial Court Branch 221- Quezon City, on the 58 counts of murder. Venue of the promulgation is
Fifty-eight persons were killed, 32 of them from the media, on November 23, 2009 when an estimated hundred armed men led by then Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., stopped a convoy led by Genalyn, wife of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangdudadatu, en route to the next town of Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, to file his certificate of candidacy for Governor.
Majority of the families of the victims reside in General Santos City, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao.
A total of 197 persons were charged for the massacre, 80 of them still at large.
According to a report of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the documents of the case involve 165 volumes of records on the trial; 65 records of stenographic notes; eight records of the prosecution’s documentary evidence.
The court also received the testimony of 357 witnesses.
The accused members of Ampatuan family include the patriarch of the clan, Andal Ampatuan Sr., who was accused of planning the massacre; then Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., , accused of leading the killing himself; then Governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao
Ampatuan, Sr. former three-term governor of Maguindanao passed away on July 17, 2015, 42 days after he was admitted at a state-owned hospital in Quezon City for “advanced liver cancer,” and four days after he lapsed into a coma after a massive heart attack.
Also charged were the patriarch’s sons, Zaldy, then on his second term as Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; Anwar, then mayor of Shariff Aguak town, and Sajid Islam, who was elected Vice Governor of Maguindanao in 2007; brother in law Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr. and his sons Saudi Jr. and Bahnarin; and first cousins Nords and Akmad.
Sajid was freed on bail in early 2015 after paying 11.6 million pesos, at 200,000 pesos for each count of murder. Several other policemen were granted bail but could not afford the amount.
Of the 197 charged, 80 are still at large.
Lawyer Nena Santos, whose clients include the Magnudadatus and some from the media, told MindaNews she expects “a verdict of guilty” for the principals.
The Ampatuans are expected to appeal the decision before the Supreme Court. Santos said the appeal is “usually long and tedious” because there are many accused persons but she hopes the Supreme Court “can designate a division that would focus on the case” as it was done in the lower court. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)