Editorial: Verdict as warning

SUSTAINED public attention and the industry of prosecutors finally paid off as Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes handed down the decision on the multiple murder case involving 57 victims in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

Top convicts were Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy, who were “found to have acted as principal.”

For a bit of context, the Ampatuans rose to power post-Edsa with Andal Ampatuan Sr. (who was also one of the principal accused in the case until his death from liver cancer in 2015) successfully gaining the governorship and had since then entrenched his family in Maguindanao’s politics.

Then enter local strongman Esmael Mangudadatu who was poised to challenge Ampatuan Jr. in the 2010 elections. Both President Gloria Arroyo allies, the two clans initially agreed that Mangudadatu would back out from the race. But came Nov. 23, 2009, Esmael Mangudadatu decided otherwise, sending members of his family to file his certificate of candidacy at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Sharif Aguak.

Not taking any chances, Mangudadatu invited over 32 journalists to join the convoy to the Comelec as a preemptive measure following heightened tension after his decision. What happened next, however, would shamefully hoist the Philippines as the most dangerous place for journalists in the world.

But thank God for hope and optimism, the wheels of justice rolled on ideal course. Over a hundred accused were found guilty. Five of the seven Ampatuans accused were convicted beyond reasonable doubt.

One of the things that sticks out in this celebrated case is the fact that a good number of officers of the Philippine National Police were implicated in the crime. This highlights what could be widespread practice in some parts of Mindanao—cops becoming private armies or hatchet men for politicians.

Another could be that mindset of impunity the Ampatuans and their men must have felt to have boldly consummated that act of violence in a massive scale in broad daylight. Evil was that comfy in its corner of the world.

But yesterday, evil lost. Nothing serves better as a cautionary tale than Solis-Reyes’s verdict to those who think they can get away with unlawful acts, even police officers and government officials.

Thanks to journalists, activists, civil society groups for the sustained vigilance. All of 10 years bore fruit; the perpetrators of the brutal act can now languish behind bars.