Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who once served as the lawyer of Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr., blamed the decade-long detention of the 56 who the court found to be innocent on the “serious flaws in our justice system.”
“This is an injustice that cannot be countenanced nor continue. It must not find print ever again in the pages of our history as a nation,” Panelo said.
He pointed out that a major cause of this is the filing of charges before the court even if there was not enough evidence presented before the prosecutor to sustain a conviction. He said this may be due to the “faulty appreciation of evidence” by the prosecutor or the prosecutor’s fear of facing administrative penalties if the case is dismissed at preliminary investigation.
“Aside from throwing away productive years of those accused who were pronounced not guilty, government resources, including man-hours and effort, have gone to waste. This is one lesson we must all learn lest we repeat the same grievous error at the cost of liberty and honor of the innocents,” Panelo said.
He said the government must pursue and protect the impartiality of the law.
Among the 56 acquitted by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 are two of the main suspects, Datu Sajid Ampatuan and Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan. Both of them were present at meetings on the plot to kill now-Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu and whoever files his certificate of candidacy, but the court held that their mere presence is not enough to convict them.
The court said Datu Sajid did not say anything that would embolden and influence his brothers to carry out the plan, while Datu Akmad did not follow through with the plan as he attended a medical mission on the day of the killings.
The court also said that 33 policemen and 22 others — including two Ampatuans, Jonathan and Jimmy — are “totally innocent” of involvement in the massacre, as they had no prior knowledge of the murder plot and were not present at the scene of the crime.
All of the accused were acquitted of murder in connection with the death of Reynaldo Momay, a photojournalist for Tacurong City-based publication Midland Review, whose body was never found. This could have been the 58th murder charge.