MANILA – Families of the victims of the decade-old Maguindanao massacre are hopeful for a conviction as it will "cut off" impunity in the country, their lawyer said Tuesday.
A Quezon City court is set to decide Thursday on the decade-long multiple murder case, considered the worst election-related violence in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest attack against journalists in the world.
"It’s very important in our justice system because this will show if there will be conviction, the impunity will be cut off," Atty. Nena Santos told ANC's Early Edition.
"It’s very important for families of the victims because after 10 years we will be able to get the verdict that we wanted to. We're very hopeful we have a conviction among the accused in trial."
Awaiting sentence are prime suspect Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. and 100 others out of 197 accused. Among them, 90 are detained while 11 are out on bail.
Andal's gubernatorial bid was challenged by Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu in 2009, which allegedly triggered the order to execute those who joined the group that would file Mangudadatu's certificate of candidacy.
"The brazenness is there because they think they control the police, military, political arena, the whole Maguindanao. They were so close to then-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo," Santos said.
The case spanned a decade due to the accused's "unnecessary motions" and changing of lawyers, Santos said, despite the prosecution presenting all of its witnesses in 3 years.
It was also difficult to convince witnesses to testify due to their fear of the Ampatuan clan and there were also bribery attempts, which caused 2 corroborating witnesses to recant their testimonies, Santos said.
The witnesses who recanted received P50,000, free housing, firearms, and allowance for the next several years, according to Santos. The prosecution, however, was able to get 2 other witnesses to counter those who recanted, she added.
Santos, who said she has not had a permanent address in 10 years due to threats, said she was offered as much as P300 million to leave the case.
Some of the witnesses' family members were also killed, she added, but despite this they still testified.
"They saw how the killing was done and it was really something they cannot forget and so when we asked them to help us, because if nobody comes out as witnesses the killings will continue. So we were able to convince many," Santos said.
The prosecution presented 5 witnesses who saw what happened in the crime scene, while there were also 11 doctors, several policemen, and government officials, according to Santos.
"We continue on telling them, you have to be strong because if you’re not here how can we continue seeking justice for your loved ones. Slowly they were able to cope. Until now, every time we talk about the case there’s still hurt, crying," she said.