GUILTY. Personnel from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology escort Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr., one of the principal accused in the Maguindanao massacre case in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City on Thursday (Dec. 19, 2019). The Quezon City Regional Trial Court found Ampatuan and 20 others guilty of 57 counts of murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years imprisonment) without parole. (Screengrab from PTV)

MANILA -- The elusive search for justice of the families of the 57 individuals, including 32 journalists, killed in the Maguindanao massacre has come to a conclusion on Thursday.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 found eight members of the Ampatuan clan and 20 others guilty for 57 counts of murder and meted them with the penalty of reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years imprisonment) without parole.

Aside from former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, likewise found guilty as principal and sentenced to reclusion perpetua without parole were his brothers Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., Datu Anwar Sajid “Datu Ulo” Ampatuan, Datu Anwar “Datu Ipi” Ampatuan Jr., Insp. Saudi Mokamad, PO1 Jonathan Engid, Abedin Alamada, Talembo “Tammy” Masukat, Theng P. Sali, Manny Ampatuan, Nasser Esmael, C/Insp. Sukarno Dicay, Supt. Abusama Mundas Maguid, and Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong.

Also found guilty were Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Tato Tampogao, Mohades Ampatuan, Mohamad T. Datumanong, Misuari Ampatuan, Taya Bangkulat, Salik Bangkulat, Thong Guiamano, Sonny K. Pindi, Armando Ambalgan, Kudza Masukat Uguia, Edres Kasan, Zacaria P. Akil, and Samaon Andatuan.

Meanwhile, those sentenced to suffer the indeterminate penalty of imprisonment of six to 10 years for being accessories to the crime are P/Insp. Michael Joy Macaraeg, PO3 Felix Eñate, PO3 Abibudin Abdulgani, PO3 Rasid Anton, PO2 Hamad Nana, PO2 Saudi Pasutan, PO2 Saudiar Ulah, PO1 Esprilieto Lejarso, PO1 Narkuok Mascud, PO1 Pia Kamidon, PO1 Esmael Guialal, PO1 Arnulfo Soriano, PO1 Herich Amaba, P/SInsp. Abdulgapor Abad and Bong Andal.

Fifty-seven of those acquitted include several members of the Ampatuan clan namely as Shariff Saydona, Mustapha, Maguindanao mayor Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan (brother of Zaldy and Andal), Datu Akmad Ampatuan, Jonathan Ampatuan, Jimmy Ampatuan along with the so-called members of the Labayan group identified as SPO1 Elizer Rendaje, SPO1 Alimola Gulanaton, SPO1 Samad Maguindra, PO3 Ricky Balanueco, PO3 Gibrael Alano, PO2 Rexson Gulama, PO1 Amir Solaiman, PO1 Badjun Panegas, PO1 Pendatun Dima, PO1 Ebara Bebot, PO1 Tamano Hadi, PO1 Michael Macarangon and the Solano group members which include SPO1 Ali Solano, PO3 Felix Daquillos, PO2 Kendatu Rakim, PO1Abdulraman Batarasa, PO1 Marjul Julkadi, PO1 Datu Jerry Uto, PO1 Mohammad Balading, PO1 Marsman Nilong, PO1 Ysmael Baraquir, PO1 Abdulmanan Saavedra, and PO1 Jimmy Kadtong.

Also acquitted of the charges were PO1 Sandy Sabang, Takpan Dilon, Edris Tekay Nanding, PO1 Warden Legawan, Rainer Ebus, Mohamad Sangki, Tho Amino, Norman Tatak, Malaguial Tanuri, Alimudin Sanguyod, Mama Habib, Sahid Giamadel, Datutulon Esmail, Kasim Lingkong, Abdulkadir Saludin, Akad Macaton, Norhato Kamino, Nasser Malaguia, P/Insp. Bahnarin Kamaong, P/Supt. Abdulwahid Pedtucasan, PO1 Ahmad Camsa Badal, PO2 Tanny Dalgan, PO1 Anwar Masukat, Samsudin Daud, Maot Bangkulat, Denga Mentol, Fahad Utto, PO1 Adbullah Baguadatu, PO1 Oscar Donato, and PO1 Michael Madsig.

The court said the prosecution failed to prove their guilt.

Solis-Reyes also ordered the accused to pay damages totaling to PHP130 million.

A total of 101 individuals faced the trial out of the initial 197 who were originally included in the indictment. Meanwhile, 117 were arrested while 80 remain at large.

As the case dragged for 10 years, 11 of the accused were granted bail while 90 remained under detention.

Out of the 101, 57 accused including indigent litigants and policemen represented by the Public Attorney's Office were acquitted by the court. 

Eight have already been discharged and/or released including Vice Mayor Sukarno Badal. Another eight have already died while the case is pending including former Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.

"Their acts were deliberate and obviously in pursuance of their plan to kill Datu Toto or whoever will file his Certificate of Candidacy," the judge said of the principal accused. whom the judge stressed were "positively identified and seen by witnesses to have actually participated in the shooting of the 57 innocent victims."

"The eyewitnesses who are familiar with accused Datu Unsay such as Rasul Sangki, Akmad Abubakar Esmael, Anok Akil, Norodin Mauyag, and Sukarno Badal categorically declared that they saw said accused in Saniag, Malating, and Masalay on November 23, 2009. At the risk of being repetitive, the court must remind again the accused that not only was he merely sighted, witnesses claimed that he was seen performing overt acts significant to the realization of the crimes charged." the court said.

Those acquitted were ordered released immediately unless they are being detained for other offenses.

During Thursday's promulgation, the prosecution of 11 government lawyers and six private prosecutors led by Deputy Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon III posed no objection to Solis-Reyes' proposal that only the salient portions of her decision was to be read in open court while the defense counsels prevailed in their request that only the dispositive portion be read.

The Maguindanao massacre, which is considered as the worst attack against media members in recent Philippine history, took place on November 23, 2009 in Sitio Masalay, Buluan town in Maguindanao.

The victims were part of a convoy on their way to file the certificate of candidacy in Shariff Aguak of Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu.

While on their way, a private militia of roughly 200 armed men, intercepted the convoy and escorted them to Buluan town in Ampatuan where they were told to get off their vehicles and then shot point-blank.

Mangudadatu’s sister and aunt who were both pregnant were among those brutally killed by the armed men.

The victims include Raida Abdul, Rowena Ante, Abdillah Ayada, Lailani Balayman, Pinky Balayman, Surayda Bernan, Concepcion Brizuela, Meriam Calimbol, Raul Daud, Eugene Demillo, Norton Edza, Bai Farinah Hassan, Wahida Kalim, Bai Eden Mangudadatu, Bai Genalin Mangudadatu, Mamotabai Mangudadatu, Catalino Oquendo Jr., Cynthia Oquendo, Rahima Palawan, Faridah Sabdullah, all members of the Mangudadatu family and supporters. (PNA)