By Mario Casayuran
Senator Leila M. de Lima said on Thursday the guilty verdicts for the 2009 Maguindanao massacre masterminds serves as a reminder to the entire nation that warlords should not escape justice, especially in a democratic country like the Philippines.
De Lima, justice secretary during the Benigno Aquino III presidency, made the remark after three sons of the late former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. were convicted for the murder of 58 persons in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
“Justice has finally been served. It has been a long and rigorous process in obtaining justice for the 58 victims of the deadliest incident of electoral violence and attack on the press in the history of the country,” she said in her recent dispatch from her detention cell at Camp Crame in Quezon city.
De Lima has been detained for more than two years on illegal drugs-related charges.
“This day will forever be etched in history as the day justice did not tolerate homicidal and monstrous abuse of power. By means of this guilty verdict, we are reminded that warlords have no place in a democracy, but are its very antithesis,” she said.
In a 761-page decision, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 found three Ampatuan brothers — Datu Andal Jr,, Zaldy, and Anwar Sr. — and 25 other accused guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
The 28 convicts were sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or a maximum of 40 years in jail, without benefit of parole, and were also ordered to pay millions of pesos in damages to the victims’ families. Meanwhile, 15 were sentenced to six to10 years for being accessories to crime, while 55 were acquitted.
The case stems from the Nov. 23, 2009 killings in Maguindanao where 58 persons died, including 32 journalists. Photojournalist Reynaldo Momay was declared dead as his body was never found.
As then-chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), De Lima led the agency in conducting fact-finding investigations immediately after the country’s worst political massacre in 2009.
When she was appointed justice secretary under the Aquino administration, De Lima took over the supervision of the same case in 2010 and steered it amid challenges both inside and outside of the DOJ.
De Lima, meanwhile, lauded the efforts of the individuals who worked hard to solve the case, including private prosecutors and lawyers and public prosecutors from the National Prosecution Service (NPS).
“This victory would have never been achieved without the persistent private prosecutors who, since day one, have refused to succumb to the pressures and challenges of this case,” she said.
“I laud the efforts of the lawyers and public prosecutors from the National Prosecution Service who fought tooth and nail to ensure that no stone is left unturned in what has been regarded as the ‘Trial of the Century’. Their efforts have proven that we will not take violence and impunity sitting down.”
De Lima also commended Judge Reyes’ efforts to tirelessly hear the case in the name of delivering complete justice to the victims of the gruesome crime, saying, “Judge Reyes will be remembered for how she tirelessly weighed and appreciated the facts, which led to the conviction of the Maguindanao mass murderers.”
Despite the recent victory, de Lima said “there is still injustice out there,” and “justice needs to be a continuing cycle wherein accountability continues to be exacted from those who abuse their power to maintain a stranglehold on their position.”
READ MORE: 43 convicted in Maguindanao massacre