By Chito Chavez
As the world anxiously waits for the December 19 decision day, a great majority has expected a guilty verdict on the infamous November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre case by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 for the mass murder and gory death of 58 victims which included 32 media practitioners.
In what was described as the worst and most gruesome single election-related incident involving journalists, it was on that fateful day when members of the media, relatives and supporters of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who were on their way of filing his certificate of candidacy (COC) for governor were stopped by heavily armed men at a checkpoint.
Apparently, Mangudadatu’s bid to topple the Ampatuan clan for the top provincial post in 2010 earned the ire of Andal Ampatuan Jr. who was vying for the same post his father Andal Ampatuan Sr. would soon vacate due to term limits.
The members of Mangundadatu’s convoy were forced to the hills of Sitio Masalay where they were shot with high-powered firearms and buried in shallow graves with the use of a government-owned backhoe.
Of the 58 people killed, six victims were at the wrong place at the wrong time as they were not even part of the convoy while the body of another fatality was never found.
Court records showed that Ampatuan Sr. patriarch of the powerful clan and his sons Unsay, Sajid and Zaldy and 197 others with 15 accused surnamed Ampatuan were charged with multiple murder.
117 accused arrested
As of November 29, 2019, 117 ac cused were arrested including one case dismissed for lack of probable cause, one dropped from the information by virtue of joint order dated February 13, 2013 and order dated November 5, 2013, two discharged as state witnesses, eight accused including Ampatuan Sr. already died while incarcerated and four were released on the ground of insufficiency of evidence.
With these figures, only 101 accused remain in detention.
Currently there are 11 lawyers from the panel of public prosecutors, six from the private prosecutors and 20 defense lawyers or firms.
Court records revealed the stenographic records have reached 65 volumes while there are now 165 volumes of case records and eight volumes of the prosecution’s evidence totaling 70,990 pages.
80 accused unaccounted for
More or less 80 respondents are yet to be accounted for by government’s law enforcement agencies.
Lt. Gen. Camilo Cascolan, deputy chief for Operations of the Philippine National Police (PNP), said they have not been remiss in running after all the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre.
But he admitted that there were some factors that has made it difficult to account for some of those who have remained in hiding.
“It’s difficult to explain it. But you can take it from this: If it is your turf, nobody can enter your turf,” said Cascolan.
Considering these figures, legal experts had said the resolution of the case is expected to be long, with the late Senator Joker Arroyo even saying the trial could last for 200 years.
Some 357 witnesses (134 prosecution witnesses, 58 private complainants and 65 defense witnesses) have been heard by the court as of October 17, 2019.
The prosecution has presented its evidence in the main cases against all the accused with all 11 batches of evidence in chief being resolved by the court on June 15, 2016; November 14, 2016; December 12, 2016; February 9, 2017; September 18, 2017; November 17, 2017; March 21, 2018; July 11, 2018 and February 6, 2019.
“Out of the 111 accused who were the subject of the People’s FOE (formal offer of evidence) resolved by the court, 79 already filed their respective motions for leave to file demurrer to evidence which had already been resolved by allowing 18 accused to file their demurrer to evidence, four of which were granted by the court and 14 were denied,’’ court records revealed.
The court said “all the other accused on trial had already presented their respective defense evidence’’ with the remaining evidence to conclude is the filing of the memorandum by accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. (With a report from Aaron Recuenco)