A PARTIAL judgement could be forthcoming by the first quarter of 2019 on the cases against former Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., the primary suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 58 people, including 32 media workers, were killed.
Lawyer Gilbert T. Andres, legal counsel for some of victims’ families, told reporters yesterday that the admission of formal offer of evidence of Mr. Ampatuan, claiming that he was in the city hall when the massacre occurred, has been submitted for resolution at the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221.
This came after the filing of comment of the prosecution last Nov. 19.
“The determination of criminal liability is another issue… that will be the full promulgation of judgement,” Mr. Andres said, speaking in mixed English and Filipino.
While there is no exact date set yet, Mr. Andres said the prosecution is hopeful that it would be “within the first quarter of next year.”
The massacre took place on Nov. 23, 2009 when family members and associates of then-gubernatorial aspirant Esmael G. Mangudadatu, accompanied by members of the media, were ambushed.
The party was on their way to filing the certificate of candidacy of Mr. Mangudadatu, who was running against the Ampatuan political clan.
Mr. Andres said the case has been dragging mainly because of the significant number of accused who remain at large, about 70, and the replacement of lawyers among the accused.
The lawyers called on the police and Department of Interior and Local Government to double efforts in catching all the suspects so that there will be “total criminal hearings” and establish “total criminal responsibility.”
Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra, in a text message last Nov. 20, said the “pending incidents in the Maguindanao murder cases will be resolved by next month. So we expect that the court will render its decision in 2019.”
In a statement, the families of the victims said they welcome the news of the expected promulgation of the case “with renewed vigor and relief, for we have waited too long and have been given so much to the case over the years.”
“We have full confidence that the evidence presented is enough to prove Datu Unsay’s guilt beyond reasonable, and we wait the verdict with cautious hope,” they said.
The Department of Justice filed 25 counts of the first batch of “Information” against Mr. Ampatuan at the Cotabato RTC last Dec. 1, 2009. The Supreme Court, on Dec. 8, 2009, granted the request to transfer the case to Quezon City.
Andal Ampatuan, Sr., father of Mr. Ampatuan, who was tagged as the mastermind of the massacre and among those charged, died of cancer on July 15, 2015.
Last September, former presidential spokesperson Harry L. Roque said some of the witnesses have retracted their testimonies against Mr. Ampatuan, but prosecutors assured that the case remains strong. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas