By Julius D. Mariveles
Lawyers Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas are at a loss to describe the decisions made by State prosecutors related to the five-year-old Ampatuan Massacre case. For now, Santos can only use the word “lumilihis (veering off track)” while Quinsayas can only say “I do not understand.”
They do agree that the decisions appear curious. At least for now.
These decisions appear to be “circumstantial” in legal speak but provide nevertheless a chain of events that suggests that there could be “something wrong” with the way the government prosecutors are handling the November 23, 2009 massacre in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao province in southern Philippines where 58 people were killed, 32 of them of journalists and media workers.
Santos and Quinsayas are among the private prosecutors in the Ampatuan trial, representing between them 44 families of the massacre victims. They are “directly under the control and supervision” of state prosecutors, which means that they can assist in prosecuting the case against the accused only if they get the approval of the chief state prosecutor.
Since the hearings began in January 5, 2010, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has yet to resolve the petition for bail filed by several of the accused. Since the murders, only 101 of out of the 197 accused for the murders have been arrested by authorities.
But these curious decisions could have dire implications in the prosecution of the criminal cases filed against the suspected masterminds – six of them part of the Ampatuan clan, a powerful and influential family in Maguindanao province. During the 2013 elections, 88 candidates running for various positions were surnamed Ampatuan.
Recently, Santos and Quinsayas decried the plan of the government prosecution panel to rest its case and terminate its presentation of evidence-in-chief against 28 of the accused. They said that the move could practically close the door for the presentation of more evidence against the 28, among them Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., Manny Ampauan, Misuari Ampatuan, and former Maguindanao provincial police chief, Chief Insp. Sukarno Dicay.
In simple terms, Quinsayas told PCIJ, this means that new evidence could no longer be submitted by the prosecutors against the 28 accused and this is crucial because the prosecution would have to prove that there was conspiracy among the accused.
“The act of one was the act of many and we have to prove it beyond reasonable doubt,” she said.
The government prosecution panel headed by Archimedes V. Manabat had already filed a manifestation before Judge Reyes seeking to rest its case against the following accused:
||15. PO1 Amir Solaiman|
||16. PO1 Datu Jerry Utto|
||17. Armando Ambalgan|
||18. Mohades Ampatuan|
||19. Salik Bangkulat|
||20. Macton Bilungan|
||21. Maot Dumla|
||22. Nasser Esmael alias Nassrudin Esmael|
||23. Edres Kasan|
||24. Nasser Talib|
||25. Salipad Tampogao|
||26. Supt. Abusama Mundas Maguid|
||27. Ibraham Kamal Tatak@Thong Guiamano|
||28. Rakin Kenog alias Rakim Amil|
The prosecutors, in their manifestation filed before the court, said that they have been “time and again…unfairly accused of delaying the proceedings…” as they pointed out that they have “no more witnesses to present against all 104 accused” except for those who are covered by motions pending before the Court of Appeals and before Reyes’ sala.
Aside from the resting of the case, Quinsayas and Santos also told PCIJ that among the curious decisions of the government prosecutors who have practically stopped consulting them are the following:
INCIDENT: The withdrawal of the motion to discharge Bong Andal, operator of the backhoe used in burying the dead victims. Santos said there was already a motion to discharge Andal as one of the accused and to adopt his testimony as one of the evidences against the accused. Andal identified Andal Ampatuan, Sr. as the one who ordered him to take the excavator to the hilltop of Barangay Masalay. He claimed that he saw dead bodies inside the vehicles and had to close his eyes while he was crushing them using the vehicle’s metal arm.
Santos said Andal was the first witness to have established a direct connection between the murder and Andal, Sr. who is accused as one of the masterminds of the massacre. “We already agreed about it but we were not told that they would be withdrawing that motion,” Santos said. “They said they don’t need Andal’s testimony anymore.”
INCIDENT: Public prosecutors seeking permission from higher PNP officials to have former Police Supt. Nilo Berdin as one of the prosecution witnesses. Quinsayas said she found it strange that the prosecutors had to get the clearance of Camp Crame officials for Berdin, then chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao during the massacre, for him to give his testimony.
Quinsayas they were able to get other Army and PNP officials as witnesses but the panel did not seek clearance from their higher officials. “What is so special about Berdin?” she asked. Berdin was not able to take the witness stand and was eventually dismissed by the PNP for negligence over the Maguindanao massacre.