By Ali Macabalang
AMPATUAN, Maguindanao – Not a few were taken aback by a call made by lawyer Nena Santos during the ninth year commemoration of the infamous Maguindanao massacre last Friday, November 23, here.
“Don’t arrest (other) suspects,” the private prosecutor in the sensational mass murder case asked authorities before families, friends, former co-workers and the public at the memorial site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Masalay where the 58 persons, including 32 media workers, were killed in that chilling Monday massacre in 2009.
Of course, the call came as a large surprise since there are 80 other suspects still at-large in the country’s deadliest election-related tragedy, and the world’s single most fatal attack on media people.
But Santos was quick to explain that any new arrests could only jeopardize the release of judgment by a Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) on the 104 other suspects who are in the custody of the government.
Government and private prosecutors have finished with the presentation of pieces of evidence and witnesses, while the defense has been given time to make further manifestation only within this month, according to Santos.
And given that trend in the litigation, Santos said QC RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes could most likely render her judgment on the 104 detained suspects either in December or in the first quarter of 2019.
Citing court records, Santos said there were a total of 197 suspects in the massacre. Of this number, 117 have been arrested and arraigned.
But only 104 are in custody because 13 have died while in detention, including primary suspect former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.; freed for lack of evidence or turned state witness, Santos said.
On Thursday, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco of the Presidential Commission on Media Protection visited the massacre site here and conveyed to Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu the government’s anticipation for a guilty verdict in the trial in the first quarter of 2019.
The two visiting officials reportedly hinted at possible “partial conviction” among the 804 suspects, including former Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Amptuan, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and other members or supporters of their political clan accused of direct involvement in the killing, as mastermind or as accessories to the crime.
In a press briefing capping off Friday’s commemoration ceremonies, Gov. Mangudadatu said complainants wanted a mass conviction of all arraigned suspects, not on instalment basis, citing alleged incidents of continuing intimidation and harassment of witnesses and complainants in the protracted court trial.
“Gusto naming, pangkalahatang conviction, hindi tinge-tinge,” said Mangudadatu, who lost his wife, two sisters, two female layers and several relatives alongside 32 local media practitioners in the massacre.