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Journalists’ killer planning to escape?

Families of Maguindanao massacre victims heaved a sigh of relief 10 years after the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QCRTC) meted life sentence without parole to almost 200 suspects in the November 23, 2009 heinous crime that claimed 58 lives, including 32 Filipino journalists.     

Maguindanao Representative Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, however, viewed their relief as short-lived after former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan filed a motion before the QCRTC, requesting that he should be transferred to the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) hospital for health reasons.

It can be recalled that Ampatuan, one of the key plotters in the Maguindanao massacre, on December 23, 2019 told the local court that he needed to undergo therapy and rehabilitation to continue with his daily medication.

Members of the Philippine media headed by then National Press Club (NPC) President Paul Gutierrez on Nov. 23, 2019 commemorated the 10th year anniversary of Maguindanao Massacre that claimed 58 lives, including 32 Filipino journalists.

Ampatuan’s request caught Mangudadatu flat-footed. He cautioned the court to be extra careful of the convict’s plea and to make sure that he should be kept within the confines of the NBP hospital in Muntinlupa.

“If he is as sick as he and his lawyers claimed him to be, then we leave it up for the NBP doctors and experts to determine it. I am not against him seeking medical assistance as long as it is done within the confines of the NBP infirmary in Muntinlupa," Mangudadatu told the court.

"Hindi po sa Makati Medical Center o sa ano pa mang mamahalin at pribadong hospital (Not in Makati Medical Center or any other private hospital) where he is allowed to stay comfortably inside a hospital suite,” Mangudadatu further said.


Although he was not surprised by Ampatuan's request to seek medical attention because it is his right, Mangudadatu cited the possibility of the convict’s escape from jail.

"My 10-year court battle with this family showed me how devious and calculating they are. Hindi malayong isipin nila ang option na tumakas. Pag nangyari yun, magiging napakahirap na para sa ating kapulisan na mahuli silang muli (They could not imagine the option to run away. When that happens, it will be very difficult for our police to catch them again)," the lawmaker cautioned.

NPC officers and members lighted candles for their fallen media colleagues.

Mangudadatu also questioned why the Urgent Motion filed by Zaldy’s lawyer last December 23 was made public only on January 2. 

"That alone, raises suspicion. I can only hope that I am wrong for my sake and for the sake of the families who lost their loved ones in the massacre," Mangudadatu said.

Prior to being convicted on December 19, 2019, Zaldy had spent at least 40 days at the Makati Medical Center, but QCRTC Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes ordered jail authorities to return Ampatuan to his detention cell at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Solis-Reyes said "there is no longer any need" for Ampatuan, a primary defendant, to remain in the hospital because his rehabilitation procedures "can be done to him as an out-patient."

Further, the judge said the medical abstract submitted by Ampatuan himself shows he is "clinically as well as neurologically stable with no more complaint of headache and dizziness," that he could walk, and includes a list of prescribed medicines and procedures.

A marker was put up for the 32 slain journalists in front of the NPC building in Intramuros, Manila.

"We are expecting other but similar petitions such as this, pero nakahanda din po kami dahil alam naming hindi pa ito lubusang natatapos sa pagbaba ng hatol sa kanila. Kaagapay namin ang dasal sa patuloy na laban naming ito (but we are also prepared because we know that it is not yet complete to bring down their judgments. We are praying together in this ongoing battle)," Mangudadatu explained.

Aside from Zaldy, also convicted were former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Anwar "Ipi" Ampatuan Jr., and Anwar Sajid "Ulo" Ampatuan. They were judged guilty for 57 counts of murder.

Also sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or up to 40 years of imprisonment without parole, were Manny, Mohades, and Misuari Ampatuan, several police officers and other personalities.

Fourteen police officers and Bong Andal, who operated the backhoe in the infamous massacre, were sentenced from six to 10 years in prison for acting as accessories to the crime.

Clan patriarch Andal Sr., the principal accused, died of liver cancer while in detention in 2015.

Meanwhile, four Ampatuans — Akmad alias "Tato," Sajid Islam, Jonathan, Jimmy— and dozens of other individuals were acquitted on the ground of reasonable doubt; three were acquitted for the prosecution's "absolute" failure to prove their guilt. They were ordered released from jail unless they are being detained for other lawful causes.

On that fateful day of November 23, 2009, 32 journalists accompanied the wife, sisters, relatives, and supporters of a 2010 Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.

Thirty-two lighted candles for 32 slain journalists.    

The victims were on their way to the Commission on Elections’ local office to witness the filing of the candidacy of then Buluan vice mayor Mangudadatu when they were flagged and killed by gunmen in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao.

Multiple murder cases were filed against Datu Andal Ampatuan, the principal accused in the case, and 196 co-accused.

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