MANILA, Philippines – No closure yet for Maguindanao 2nd District Representative Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who said he would appeal the acquittal of two members of the Ampatuan clan in the murder of his wife and two sisters, promulgated by a court on Thursday, December 19.
“Matagal pa ito (It’s a long way to go),” Mangudadatu told reporters amid cheers and fists raised in victory after the conviction of brothers Andal Ampatuan Jr and Zaldy Ampatuan Jr as the main suspects in the murder of Mangudadatu’s wife Genalin, his sisters Eden and Farinah, and 55 other people in the grisly Maguindanao massacre on November 23, 2009.
Mangudadatu said he would appeal the acquittal of Sajid Islam Ampatuan, currently the mayor of Shariff Saydona Mustapha municipality in Maguindanao province, and Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr – before the Court of Appeals and all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court found evidence insufficient to prove Sajid and Tato Ampatuan guilty of the murders. Sajid, one of the main suspects along with his brothers Andal Jr and Zaldy Ampatuan, had been out on bail worth P11.6 billion.
Mangudadatu said more witness testimonies had come in since Sajid posted bail in 2015, when the evidence against him was found weak. Mangudadatu said he and his lawyers will try to get those testimonies included in the case to overturn the acquittal.
Meanwhile, Tato Ampatuan Sr’s lawyer Artemio Caña said his client was only dragged into the case because of his surname, and was participating in a medical mission at the time of the crime. Unlike Sajid, Tato had been in jail 10 years, Caña said.
Besides the two acquitted Ampatuans, there are still the 50 suspects up for a verdict in a second phase of promulgations in the case, as well as 81 suspects still at large. With these, Mangudadatu said he could not really consider the case closed.
Nevertheless, he and the other victims’ families were thankful for the convictions of most of the suspects, especially the Ampatuans, who had ruled Maguindanao with impunity for decades.
Mangudadatu was about to challenge Andal Ampatuan Jr in the province’s gubernatorial race when a convoy led by his wife and sisters was blocked and hijacked on their way to file his candidacy.
At some point, Genalin Mangudadatu was able to phone her husband to tell him something was wrong, before the line went dead.
Gunmen led the convoy to a deserted mountainous place, where they shot and killed all 58 people part of the convoy, including 32 journalists, and the Mangudadatu women.
Mangudadatu ended up beating Andal Ampatuan Jr as governor, and held the post for 3 consecutive terms before running – and winning – as congressman in May 2019. – Rappler.com
JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.