MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed an earlier court ruling that allowed a key suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre to post bail.
The CA's 16th Division denied the petition for certiorari filed by government prosecutors that sought to overturn the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 which granted Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan the right to bail. He posted an P11.6-million bail in 2015 for 58 counts of murder.
Ampatuan had been imprisoned for 5 years prior to posting bail. He eventually ran but lost in the mayoral race in Shariff Aguak in 2016. (READ: Grand welcome for Ampatuan son out on bail)
The CA ruled that the Quezon City RTC judge did not commit grave abuse of discretion in allowing the posting of bail.
Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes had said Ampatuan's presence in the meetings where the massacre was supposedly plotted is not strong evidence of guilt to deny the motion of the accused for bail. Solis-Reyes added that evidence show Ampatuan did not speak during these meetings.
The CA also noted that the hearings conducted and the evidence presented were sufficient to grant the motion for bail.
Prosecutors had argued that the Quezon City RTC disregarded the testimonies of witnesses Mohammad Sangki and Police Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon.
Sangki testified there was a plot to murder the victims and that Ampatuan conspired with the others to carry out the plan. Diongon testified that he was made to execute false affidavits inside the house of the accused.
The appellate court said that because the witnesses were not discharged as state witnesses, it was the Quezon City RTC judge's discretion to not give merit to their testimonies. The court added that even if the testimonies prove true, they do not constitute the "strong evidence of guilt" required to deny a bail petition.
"In the instant case, the Court finds that public respondent did not act in a whimsical, arbitrary, and capricious manner when she granted private respondent's motion for bail," the CA ruled.
The Ampatuan clan is accused of masterminding the massacre, which killed 58 people, including 32 journalists, to derail the political plans of rival Esmael Mangudadatu during the 2010 elections.