Ampatuan Massacre case: 10 years in lower court; in Court of Appeals since late 2020 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 23 November) – It took ten years and one month for the lower court to hand down its verdict finding the Ampatuan siblings and other principals and accessories guilty of the massacre of 57 persons, 32 of them media workers, on November 23, 2009 in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Forty three of the accused were convicted, 28 of them principals while 56 were acquitted 

Eleven notices of appeal were filed by perpetrators and by relatives of the victims, between January 2, 2020 and September 18, 2020. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Regional Trial Court Branch 221 in Quezon City ordered the Branch Clerk of Court on October 12, 2020 to “immediately transmit the entire records of these cases” to the Court of Appeals, along with the proof of payment of fees. 

Blessing of holy water and lighting of candles at the site of the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Families of media victims visit the site every year except during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Justice remains the cry of the relatives 13 years later. MindaNews photo by GREGORIO C. BUENO

“It has been two years for all the appeals” in the massacre case, said lawyer Gilbert Andres, counsel for some families of media victims. 

The Court of Appeals has yet to decide on the appeals. 

The 11 notices of appeal are as follows: 

  • “Notice of Appeal with Prayer to Exempt accused from paying appeal fee” filed on January 2, 2022 by accused PINsp. Saudi M. Mokamad; 
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on January 2, 2022 by accused Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr.;
  • “Ex Abundanti Ad Cautelam Notice of Appeal with Entry of Appearance” filed on January 3, 2020 by accused Bahnarin U. Kamaong; 
  • “Notice of Appeal” of accused Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy U. Ampatuan, filed on January 3, 2020;
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on January 3, 2020 by private complainants Heirs of McDelbert Arriola and 18 other private complainants;
  • “Notice of Appeal” (For Private Complainant Heirs of Andres Miguel Teodoro) filed on August 20, 2020;
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on August 20, 2020 by private complainants Eden F. Ridao and 36 other private complainants;
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on September 14, 2020 by accused Jonathan Engid;
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on September 16, 2020 by accused PInsp. Michael Joy Macaraeg; 
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on September 17, 2020 by accused Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Sr., Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Jr. aka Datu Ipi, and Datu Anwarr Sajid Ampatuan aka Datu Ulo; and 
  • “Notice of Appeal” filed on September 18, 2020, by accused Police Inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg and Police Officer 1 Pia S. Kamidon. 

Worst election-related violence

In her 761-page decision, Judge Reyes found the Ampatuan brothers Andal Jr., Zaldy and Anwar, and 25 other principals guilty beyond reasonable doubt for 57 counts of murder. 

The court did not consider Reynaldo Momay, photographer of Midland Review in Tacurong, as the 58th  victim because “whether Momay died or was missing” after November 23, 2009 “could not be ascertained as no evidence of his actual death was adduced. He has no cadaver and neither was his death certificate presented on record.”

Momay’s daughter Reynafe Castillo, has appealed the decision on the criminal and civil aspects.   

Andal Jr. was then mayor of Datu Unsay town, Zaldy on his second term as Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Anwar was mayor of Shariff Aguak town. 

Andal Jr. intended to file his certificate of candidacy (COC) for Governor and wanted to run unopposed like his father in 2007.  But Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, their former ally, decided to challenge the Ampatuans by running for governor. 

From his hometown in Buluan, Mangudadatu sent a 53-member convoy led by his wife, Genalyn, to file his COC for Governor at the provincial office of the Commission on Elections at the then capitol of Maguindanao in Shariff Aguak town. They never made it to Shariff Aguak, Along the highway of Ampatuan town, at least a hundred armed men led by Andal, Jr., stopped them and at gunpoint forced them to turn left to Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman where they were killed. 

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 hide the crime, the perpetrators attempted to bury the evidence by burying the bodies and the vehicles using a backhoe of the provincial government that was used earlier to dig the graves.  The perpetrators failed to bury all the bodies and vehicles as the helicopter carrying Mangudadatu soldiers hovered and soldiers were arriving. 

Thirty-two of the 53-member convoy were from the media, the rest were the wife, sister and other relatives of Mangudadatu and two female lawyers. Five more persons in two vehicles that were mistaken to be part of the convoy were also killed. 

It was the worst election-related violent incident in the history of the country and the single deadliest attack in the world against journalists. 

A total of 197 persons were charged for the massacre, 80 of them still at large when the verdict was handed down on December 19, 2019. 

According to a report of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the documents of the case involved 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.

“Natulog sa CA”

Momay’s daughter, Reynafe, a nurse now based in the United States, wrote: “it will be 2023 next year, and another year that this case will even drag if nothing can be done. Time seems freezing and justice seems so far away.”

She told MindaNews on Wednesday that the case is “natulog sa CA, naghibernate ang case” (the case has not moved in the CA; has hibernated there).

Families of the victims of the Ampatuan Massacre offer candles at the site of the carnage in Sitio Masalay, Brgy. Salman in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao del Sur on Sunday (Nov. 20, 2022). MindaNews photo by GREGORIO BUENO

While waiting  for the livestreamed promulgation of judgment on the massacre case on December 19, 2019  at the St. Paul of the Cross Pastoral Center in General Santos City, Ronie “Ronron” Perante, Jr., then 18 years old, told MindaNews he was aware that whoever gets convicted would likely file a motion for reconsideration and if denied, appeal the decision and if the Court of Appeals affirms the decision of the lower court, appeal to the Supreme Court. 

Ronron’s father, Ronie Perante, Sr. was a correspondent of Gold Star Daily.

“Kabalo ko maghulat na pud mi pero dili lang ta mawad-an ug paglaum. Maghulat gihapon” (I know we will wait again but we should not lose hope. We will wait), Ronron told MindaNews. 

“Dili gyud ta magsurrender para pud sa atong pamilya” (Let us not surrender for the sake of our families), said Ronron.  

How long it will take for the CA to rule on their appeals is a question repeatedly asked by family members at the massacre site last Monday. 

“Unta dili na pud 10 years” (Let’s hope it will not take another ten years), they said. (Carolyn O. Arguillas / MindaNews)

Ampatuan Massacre after 13 years: another long wait for the Court of Appeals’ ruling