By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has denied the plea of former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy U. Ampatuan to post bail in the murder charges filed against him in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 58 persons died, most of them journalists.
In a resolution, the SC affirmed the rulings of the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) which both found that the evidence of guilt presented by the prosecution against Ampatuan is strong to warrant the denial of bail.
While the SC resolution was dated July 22, 2019, a copy was made public only on Wednesday (September 11).
Fifty-eight persons died in Barangal Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
Those killed were part of a convoy that was to accompany the registration of then Buluan town Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for the 2010 gubernatorial election.
Last year’s update on the Maguindanao massacre cases stated:
“These murder cases account for 58 victims (out of the 58 victims, 32 were alleged to be media practitioners), originally involving 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuans), with 115 already arrested (latest accused arrested is Jonathan Engid on February 28, 2017), including one whose cases were dismissed as against him for lack of probable cause.
“One already dropped from the (Amended) Informations by virtue of a Joint Order dated February 13, 2013 and Order dated November 5, 2013, two discharged as state witnesses.
“Four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan, Sr. died while in detention.
“Most recently, 4 of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the Court. Thus, from those arraigned, only 103 accused remain on trial.
“The proceedings are being actively attended by 10 lawyers that comprise the third Panel of Public Prosecutors, 8 private prosecutors, and 23 defense lawyers/firms.”
Earlier, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra had expressed confidence that the Quezon City RTC will issue within the year its verdict over those charged in the Maguindanao massacre.
“The DOJ expects that a judgment will be rendered before the 10th anniversary of the infamous massacre on 23 November 2019, and that justice will finally be served,” Guevarra said.
The trial of the multiple murder cases before Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of RTC Branch 221 has been concluded last July 17.
Guevarra said “the parties were given until 15 August 2019 to submit simultaneously their respective memorandum or written summation, after which the case shall be considered as submitted for decision, with or without the memoranda of the parties.”
In its 2018 decision, the CA ruled that “… the evidence on record would suggest that, while there may be doubts as to petitioner’s (Zaldy U. Ampatuan) overt acts that may result in his criminal liability by reason of conspiracy, the presumption is great that he is probably guilty of the charges, therefore bail should be refused.”
In affirming the trial court’s ruling, the CA said that the testimonies of several prosecution witnesses “appeared to be in uniform and consistently shown” that the former ARMM governor participated personally in various discussions with his family members on how to carry out the crimes.
“When the grant of bail is discretionary, the prosecution has the burden of showing that the evidence of guilt against the accused is strong. On this score, the determination of whether or not the evidence of guilt is strong, being a matter of judicial discretion remains with the judge,” it said.
At the same time, the CA said that the denial of Ampatuan’s plea for bail was not unreasonable since it was a result of a thorough assessment of the evidence presented by the prosecution.
In 2012, the SC declared final its ruling that dismissed the plea of Ampatuan for exclusion in the Maguindanao massacre cases.
In its resolution that upheld lower courts’ rulings on the denial of bail, the SC said:
“After a perusal of the records of the case, this Court resolves to deny the petition for failure of the petitioner to sufficiently show any reversible error in the assailed Decision and Resolution of the CA.
“WHEREFORE, premises considered, the Court DENIES the petition for lack of merit.”