Families more fearful with acquittals, 80 still at large in Ampatuan massacre

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Families are even more fearful now, said Grace Morales, widow of journalist Rosell Morales, after 55 suspects in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre were acquitted and will be set free.

"Karamihan sa mga family after the promulgation sabi nakakatakot na, kasi ang daming na-acquit, ang dami nang puwede nang gumala-gala sa labas at puwedeng balikan 'yung iba," Morales said in a press conference on Thursday, December 19, after the promulgation of judgment inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

(Many among families said after the promulgation that it's more scary now, because more can roam around and exact revenge.)

A total of 56* suspects, including Ampatuan scions Datu Sajid Islam and Datu Akmad "Tato," were acquitted and were ordered released after Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes found reasonable doubt in their liabilities. (*Editor's Note: We earlier reported 55 were acquitted because P/Supt. Bahnarin Kamaong was announced as among those convicted. Kamaong's name, however, also appears on the list of the acquitted. We are still awaiting explanation from the court.)

The families also pleaded to authorities to find the 80 people, many of them with the Ampatuan surname, who were never arrested since the beginning of trial.

"Sa dami 'nung 80 na 'yun bakit ang hirap hanapin?" said private lawyer Rachel Pastores. (Given that number of 80, why are they difficult to find?)

Caren Araneta, widow of radioman Henry Araneta, asked why so few were convicted for so many deaths. "Hindi puwede na konti lang ang gumawa nuon, marami talaga sila (It couldn't have been done by just a few people)," Araneta said.

"Sana matutukan talaga 'yung 80 persons, at yung na-acquit kasi personnel sila ng government, at doon sila naa-assign sa Maguindanao area," Araneta added. (Please focus on the 80 people and those acquitted because they are government personnel assigned to Maguindanao.)

She also said she hopes authorities would equally focus on the 80 people as those who were acquitted because they are government personnel usually assigned to the Maguindanao area.

A total of 19 cops were convicted, 5 for murder with reclusion perpetua imposed, and 14 for being accessory to the crimes with a sentence of 6-10 years in prison.

For the 80 still at large, Judge Reyes issued alias warrants against them, but ordered cases to be archived until their apprehension.

Private prosecutor Nena Santos said that according to witnesses, the 80 – consisting of cops and civilian volunteers – were actual shooters during the massacre.

In more danger

"I feel I am more in danger now than it before," Santos told ABS-CBN.

"The skirmishes in the ground level are perpetrated by the accused who are not yet apprehended and we are wary that after the conviction that they will make some retaliatory moves against us and the complainants and that is very scary," said Santos.

At a separate press conference, Senior Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon said "we could not do anything."

"You could allege a lot of things but proving is another thing. So if the police are listening and they heard what she said then maybe they could talk to each other," Fadullon said, referring to Santos' statement.

Morales said that despite the fear, they would not be deterred in pursuing charges against those still at large.

Santos said a second batch of complaints is already awaiting resolution by the Department of Justice (DOJ).

"Kami 'yung nawalan, kami yung may karapatang humabol sa kanila at hindi rin kami puwedeng matakot. Dapat ituloy namin ang laban at walang karapatan ang takot dito," said Morales.

(We were the ones who lost someone, so we are the ones who have the right to run after them. We cannot be afraid. We should continue this fight because fear has no right here.) – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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