Suspects in Roxas Night Market blast convicted; terrorism charges dropped

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 29 Sep) – Seven members of the Islamic State-linked Maute Group and three other persons, who remained at large, were convicted of murder after the Regional Trial Court of Taguig found them guilty of perpetrating the deadly September 2, 2016 Roxas Night Market bombing, which killed 15 persons and wounded 69 others.

Commemorating the Roxas Night Market bombing. MindaNews file photo by MANMAN DEJETO

RTC Branch 266 presiding judge Marivic C. Vitor, in her decision released on Monday, convicted TJ Tagabaya Macabalang, Wendel Apostol Facturan, Musali Urbano Mustapha, Jessy Vincent Guinto Original, Zack Haron Lopez, Jackson Mangulumas Usi, and Ausa Abdullah Mamasapano, and ordered the arrest of the three others who are still at large.

All seven accused were transferred from the City Jail in Maa, Davao City to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City in February 2018 after the Supreme Court approved the requests of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology-Davao, City Peace and Order Council, City Prosecutor’s Office and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana for the transfer of detention and venue of trial for the “high-risk inmates.”

The court ordered them to suffer the penalty of imprisonment of reclusion perpetua and pay the families of the deceased victims P350,000 each and the injured victims with P150,000 each in total damages.

But the court dropped the charges of terrorism under the Human Security Act of 9372, also known as the “Human Security Act of 2007,” for failure of the prosecution to prove their guilt by establishing that the accused were motivated by the desire to coerce the government to give in to an unlawful demand.

“The prosecution failed to prove with clear and convincing evidence that the bombing was performed because the President is from Davao City and that it was done to compel the government to reduce the military forces in Basilan who, at that time, was fighting the Abu Sayyaf Group,” the judge said.

In a statement, Acting Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte said the city government welcomes the conviction of the accused but expressed dismay over the dismissal of terrorism charges against them.

“And given the many lives lost because of the bomb attack – and given its impact on Davao City and its people – we respectfully express our dismay as we point out that this positive development is somehow tarnished by the absence of a strong law against terrorism. Although the perpetrators were convicted as murderers, they would have been convicted as terro4rists as well – if only the Philippines has a good anti-terror law,” he added.

While the verdict underscores the delivery of justice, Duterte said the kind of justice for the victims of the terror attack would have been even more meaningful not only to their families but also to the peace-loving Dabawenyos if only the Philippines has a good anti-terror law.

“Four years after the grisly attack, we continue to mourn with the families of the victims and the survivors. Day in and day out, these families are constantly reminded of the horror brought by the bomb explosion to their lives. While Davao City has epitomized unity, resilience, and strength to stand tall, strong, and victorious in the face of adversities and difficult challenges, the terror attack has clearly jolted us,” he said.

He added that the decision underlines the urgency to enforce strong laws against people and groups that espouse terrorism.

Last July 3, Republic Act 11479 or the “Anti-Terrorism Act” was signed into law, which repealed the Human Security Act of 2007.

“The Local Government of Davao would like to express its gratitude to the survivors and the families of the fatalities for persistently pursuing the case against the perpetrators despite the many challenges. You were dauntless in your pursuit of justice and your courage was truly inspiring. While we claim this as our victory, we should never let our guard down,” Duterte said.

He added that the terror attack must push the Dabawenyos to embrace the culture of security. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)