December 1, 2023

Everybody, it seems, is counting the number of days before Christmas. It is just around the bend. In every nook and corner, the feeling is very festive. Why not? Christmas brings families and friends together. It is that time of the year when people are in a generous and forgiving mood. It is the time when happiness fills the air. As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”
This year, aside from Christmas, there too, is another event that is worth counting the number of days for. I am talking about the promulgation of the decision of the multiple murder cases that were filed against prominent members of the Ampatuan clan and their cohorts. On Dec. 19, the court where the case was heard will render its decision. Whether or not it is one of acquittal or conviction is something that is worth waiting for.
The cases against the accused stemmed from the allegation that they waylaid a group of journalists and politicians somewhere along a highway in Maguindanao. After which, they mercilessly shot them one by one, leaving no prisoners alive. It was an unprecedented massacre. The victims were the political opponents of the Ampatuans who mustered the courage to go against the well-established political scion in an election that was going to be held that year. They were on their way to the Commission on Elections to file their certificates of candidacy. That the candidates were being accompanied by journalists was because it was the first time in a number of years that someone of lesser status would challenge the stronghold of the Ampatuans.
To say that the crime was gruesome is an understatement. More than 50 people were killed and it was, in fact, branded as the crime of the century. To cover the depravity of the crime, the perpetrators tried to bury the bodies or the so-called corpus delicti, by digging graves right in the place where the ambush happened. Yet, a crime of such magnitude and scale is hard to conceal. Consequently, the alleged masterminds, the accomplices and the accessories were all arrested and put to trial.
The trial itself was so arduous as the felony that was being prosecuted. The prosecution presented more than a hundred witnesses and the defense, who is not to be outdone, presented an equal number. In the course of the trial spanning more than five years, some accused and some witnesses died. The first judge inhibited and the judge who was bold enough to assume the unenviable task of assessing the evidence that were presented, had to ask for an extension of one month within which to render her decision. That one-month extension ends on December 19, 2019.
Thus, a nation that kept track of the murder trial is counting down the number of days before the promulgation. It is about to come. In a few days, it will.
Even before Dec. 19, backstreet debaters are already arguing among themselves about the outcome. What will the verdict be? It might be anti-climactic because the result seems obvious. My fearless forecast is that the Ampatuans and their co-conspirators will be convicted. They will be found guilty of the crime and will be sentenced to a life in prison. My basis is aplenty.
First, the nation is outraged by the audacity and arrogance of the accused who have ruled their turf by instilling fear among their subjects. They held their people in abject poverty so that they can control their minds and destiny. For them, people are mere statistics whose importance becomes manifest only during the election period. If they think that their power and their money can bail them out of their predicament, they should think again. Their dynasty is about to come to an end. The Filipinos will not accept anything except a conviction.
Second, the judge is under a lot of stress to render what the people want. Can you imagine the criticism she has to face is she acquits the Ampatuans? The murder case she tried is more than an ordinary criminal case. It is invested with political and international interest. All eyes are focused on what she is going to do. I think that to do right, the judge will go with the popular opinion.
Third, the Ampatuans have lost their grip of power. Their sphere of influence has diminished ever since they were jailed. The municipalities they used to control with an iron hand are now under the control of other politicians. Gov. Toto Mangudadatu, whose wife was among those killed, now rules. In short, the once untouchable clan no longer has any comfort zones. They have no clout, political or otherwise.
Fourth, there were more than enough evidences presented to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt. There were eyewitnesses. Some of the accused who were found least guilty turned state witnesses. It will be very difficult to overcome the odds that were presented against them.
With the blessing of the Supreme Court allowing the full coverage of the promulgation of the decision, expect a nation that hungers for justice to shout with joy when the dispositive portion is read saying: “Guilty as charged.”