MANILA—The Court of Appeals allowed a son of former Maguindanao governor and clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., and one of the respondents in Maguindanao massacre case to be released in bail.
In a 10-page decision dated Jan. 30, 2017, the CA’s Sixteenth Division affirmed the decision of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes granting the motion of Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, a suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre to post bail last January 9, 2015.
The ruling was penned by Associate Justice Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob and concurred in by Associate Justices Ricardo Rosario and Edwin Sorongon.
The CA denied the petition for certiorari filed by government prosecutors seeking the reversal of the order issued by Judge Solis-Reyes.
The appellate court noted that based on the records, a hearing on the application for bail was conducted and that the prosecution was given sufficient ample opportunity to present evidence in support of its opposition to Sajid Islam’s motion for bail.
It pointed out that the judge decision to disregard the testimonies of Mohammad Sangki and P/Insp/ Rex Ariel Diongon did not constitute grave abuse of discretion sufficient to warrant the granting of the appeal.
Sangki had testified before the court to prove the existence of a plot to assassinate the victims and to shat that Sajid Islam conspired with the other accused in carrying out the massacre.
On the other hand, Diongon testified that he was made to execute false affidavits in the presence of the private respondent inside the latter’s house.
The appellate court noted that both witnesses were not discharged as state witness, thus, it is within the discretion of Judge Solis-Reyes to refuse to give merit to their testimonies.
Even if the testimonies of the two witnesses would be accommodated, the CA said these were not sufficient to establish that Sajid Islam conspired with the other respondents in the Maguindanao massacre case.
It explained the mere presence of Sajid Islam in the supposed meetings and the alleged execution of false affidavits by Diongon before the respondent inside the latter’s house cannot be considered “a strong evidence of guilt” which is necessary to deny one’s right to bail.
“We defer to the findings of the public respondent particularly because of her unique position to directly observe the demeanor of a witness while testifying on the stand. From its vantage point, the court a quo is in the best position to determine the truthfulness of witness,” the CA pointed out.
“The findings were arrived at in the exercise of public respondent’s sound discretion after considering the evidence adduced by the prosecution. Perforce, the assailed orders may not be disturbed,” it added.
In affirming the trial court’s order, the CA held that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part Judge Solis-Reyes in issuing the assailed order.
“In the instant case, the Court finds that public respondent did not act in a whimsical, arbitrary and capricious manner when she granted private respondent’s motion for bail,” the CA ruled.
Sajid Islam was released from jail in March 2015 after posting PHP200,000 per murder count or a total of PHP11.6 million for the 58 counts of murder filed before the court in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.
The Ampatuan clan was accused of masterminding the Maguindanao massacre, which killed 58 individuals, including 32 journalists, to derail the political plans of rival Esmael Mangudadatu, incumbent governor of Maguindanao, for the 2010 elections.
Judge Solis-Reyes ruled that Sajim Islam’s mere presence during the three meetings with the other accused allegedly to plot the massacre does not constitute strong evidence of guilt to deny his motion considering that based on the evidence showing that he did not utter any word while matters related to the crime were supposedly being discussed by the other respondents.
Earlier, Supreme Court (SC) Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno said that Quezon City RTC has been conducting hearings on the Maguindanao massacre case thrice a week in a bid to serve justice to the victims of the crime and their families.
Sereno stressed as of Jan. 24, Judge Solis-Reyes has already heard a total of 233 witnesses: 131 prosecution witnesses, 58 private complainants, and 44 defense witnesses.
She added the court has also resolved all the 12 sets of formal offer of evidence (FOE), and all bail applications of the 69 accused, except the bail application at of accused Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., which was deemed submitted for resolution on January 3, 2017.