Although Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and several others were ruled guilty of 57 counts of murder in the Maguindanao Massacre, Karapatan Southern Mindanao Region (SMR) Secretary-General Jay Apiang urged the people to remain vigilant as the case is yet to be contested in other judicial areas.
“We still call on the victims’ kin, friends from the media, rights advocates, and the people to remain vigilant,” Apiang said to Atenews in a message.
He added that the Ampatuan clan has political allies with significant influence.
“Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a close ally of the Ampatuan clan, is still in power and has significant influence within the Duterte’s altar,” Apiang said.
Out of the 197 people who were charged in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, only 42 were convicted while 55 were acquitted.
The ruling officially closed the decade-long court proceedings on what is considered the Philippines’ worst case of election-related violence.
The mass killing happened on November 23, 2009, when town mayor Esmael Mangudadatu’s relatives went to file a certificate of candidacy (COC) as governor on his behalf.
The mayor had been receiving threats and sent his pregnant wife and other female relatives instead. Journalists and other reporters accompanied the relatives to cover the filing of COC.
On their way to the provincial capital of Maguindanao, the relatives and journalists were stopped by armed men at a checkpoint in the town of Ampatuan.
They were then ordered to drive to another location where three mass graves had already been excavated.
Out of the 58 who were killed, 32 were media workers. The death of photojournalist Reynaldo Momay was excluded in the verdict as there was no trace of him in the gravesite.
Mangudadatu suspected the Ampatuan family of the mass murder as Andal Ampatuan Jr. was his running opponent for governor.
Andal Ampatuan Jr. was the son of then-incumbent governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and brother of Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan.
Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, and Cotabato City were immediately placed under a state of emergency. A national day of mourning was also declared.
On November 26, multiple murder charges were filed against Ampatuan Jr. Weeks after the filing of charges, Zaldy and Ampatuan Sr. were also arrested.
The case was then transferred to Manila.
On January 5, 2010, the primary accused Ampatuan Jr. pleaded not guilty to the murder cases. In March, the court ordered the arrest of 196 suspects.
On June 2010, a witnessed claimed that he heard the Ampatuan’s plans to kill the Mangadadatu.
In December 2012, Zaldy Ampatuan pleaded not guilty to the cases charged against him. This prodded the court to hasten the proceedings. However, this did not happen.
On July 17, 2015, Ampatuan Sr. died of liver failure. Two months later, Zaldy was denied a petition for bail.
On May 30, 2017, Ampatuan Jr. was also denied bail.
On December 19, 2019, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court gave their verdict on the Maguindanao massacre suspects.
Eight members of the Ampatuan family were found guilty and sentenced to reclusion perpetua or a maximum of 40 years in jail without parole.
While the court’s conviction of the suspects was welcomed by the victims’ families, Karapatan-SMR Secretary-General Jay Apiang stated that the verdict is still a “fragmental justice” for the 58 slain individuals.
“While we welcome the conviction of 28 suspects including Datu Andal Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, we likewise assailed the acquittal of accused policemen in the case,” he said.
An international human rights group also described the final verdict as only “partial justice” due to the acquittal of the 55 suspects. Eighty others who were said to be involved in the murders remain at large.
“So this was justice, if only partially, and may not fully comfort the victims’ relatives,” Human Rights Watch Philippines researcher Carlos Conde said in a report by ABS-CBN.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index, the Philippines ranks top five due to the Maguindanao Massacre. With the verdict, however, the country’s Global Impunity Index ranking is expected to go down.