Bail now, acquit later?
The release on bail of Sajid Islam Ampatuan, one of the principal accused in the Ampatuan Massacre trial, is seen as a terrible setback for the prosecution. It is causing worry that the trial will be a whitewash and that the culprits will eventually go scot-free.
Yes, it is a setback, but not as bad as it seems. What is really worrisome is not the fact that Sajid was granted bail, but the court’s reasoning that the evidence against him was not strong simply because he didn’t speak up during the small meeting when his cohorts plotted cold-blooded murder. It is the kind of reasoning that will doom the prosecution, not the legalistic distinction between the evidence on the motion for bail, and the evidence-in-chief in the trial on the merits.
First, even if Sajid is now out on bail, the masterminds remain behind bars: ex-governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan patriarch and ring leader, and his son, Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., together with the two other key accused who had applied for bail along with Sajid but were denied. Not all is lost. There is hope that justice will prevail.
Moreover, as the court emphasizes, Sajid’s case is just at the preliminary stage to determine his bail application, not the trial on the merits where the court decides to convict or acquit. In other words, all of them remain on trial and the court still has to pronounce their guilt after a full-blown trial.
But Sajid’s release remains alarming because if there is not enough evidence to deny him bail, how much more evidence will be needed to establish “proof beyond a reasonable doubt”—that is to say, the highest standard of evidence, of moral certainty, sufficient to overcome the “presumption of innocence”?
That is why the real problem is the court’s reasoning in granting bail. Sajid was mostly quiet and didn’t speak up when his cohorts plotted the massacre. And the court says: “[H]e did not make any utterance …. Thus at this stage it can only be inferred that Sajid Islam was merely present in the purported meetings.” The court concludes that the evidence of guilt is not strong. We ask the judge: Why, what would it take to convince her that Sajid was part of the murderous plan?
Consider the words uttered by his cohorts at the table during that meeting held on Nov. 17, 2009. An eyewitness, a kasambahay (househelp) of the Ampatuan family, testified that the three main accused sat down to discuss how to stop Toto Mangudadatu from running for governor against the incumbent governor, Andal Sr.
Anwar said: “Kaya nga tayo nandito para pag-usapan, nakakahiya sa angkan ng Ampatuan na may kumakalaban (That is why we’re here to talk, it’s embarrassing that anyone would dare oppose our clan).”
The other accused, Tato Ampatuan, replied: “Pakinggan si Ama, okay kami lahat na patayin sila (Listen to Father, it’s okay to kill all of them),” and added: “Mabuti nga sa mga Mangudadatu na mahilig mag-ambisyon na patayin sila lahat (It’s good for these ambitious Mangudadatus if they are all killed).” Another witness testified that, at another meeting, Tato discussed how they would rearrange the checkpoints so that the police officers would flag down the vehicles carrying the Mangudadatus to the Commission on Elections, and then the local militia would finish them up with gunfire.
Another witness recalled Anwar saying at an earlier meeting on the same problem: “Patayin natin yung mga Mangudadatu, pati yung mga sasakyan nila ililibing na natin yan (Let us kill the Mangudadatus, and bury even their vehicles).”
Sajid, also known as Datu Ulo, a son of Andal Sr., was at the table when those words were uttered. He was an acting provincial governor, and he sat idly by as his seat mates planned a rubout. He allowed the use of the provincial police to flag down the Mangudadatu convoy. Afterwards, he allowed the use of the backhoe owned by the provincial government to bury the bodies and their vehicles exactly as planned.
But the court insists that the “mere presence of the accused” and his “silence” should not be “construe[d as] assent to the commission of the crimes.” Perhaps the court’s reasoning might fly if the coplotters had spoken in amorphous language using broad threats against unspecified rivals. But here the crime was ominous, the target victims well-identified, and the execution of the plan laid out in specific detail. Sajid was no idle bystander. His silence spoke volumes.
We must take Sajid’s winning bail and put it to good use. Let us alert the court that its reasoning is stupid. That way, we can ensure that he and his coconspirators will spend the rest of their lives in jail.
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