Everything you need to know about the Maguindanao massacre

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CNN Philippines answers 10 questions on the decade-old Maguindanao massacre case.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — After volumes of documents, more than 300 witnesses and 10 years in court, the so-called trial of the decade is coming to a close.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is handing down the verdict on the 2009 Maguindanao massacre on Thursday.

Here is a briefer on the events that took place on that fateful day of November 23, 2009, the people involved, the motives behind the brutal mass killing, and the closure of a chapter on impunity in the country.

What happened on November 23, 2009?

Fifty-eight people were killed in broad daylight in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, their corpses hastily buried in three shallow graves on a hilltop.

Most of the victims were part of a convoy making their way to the local office of the Comission on Elections to file the certificate of candidacy for provincial governor of then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu. He was running against Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., also known as Unsay who was then mayor of Datu Unsay town and son of the incumbent governor, Andal Ampatuan, Sr.

Prosecution witnesses testified seeing a heavily armed Unsay with members of his family's alleged private army guarding checkpoints in the town of Ampatuan.

The unarmed passengers of the Mangudadatu convoy were brought to the hills of Sitio Masalay. Unsay and his men then shot the victims using high-powered firearms, "killing them in a competitive fashion," based on the memorandum submitted by the prosecution to the court.

Akmad Esmael Abubakar, a farmer and resident of Sitio Malating, said he saw Unsay shoot one woman in the mouth. Another witness, Norodin Mauyag, said one other female was shot between the legs.

Witness Sukarno Badal, who said he worked for the Ampatuan clan, said journalists were inside one vehicle when it was peppered by bullets.

Unsay and his men fled the crime scene after receiving information that soldiers were on their way to the area, Badal said. Unsay ordered the operator of a backhoe owned by the provincial government to bury all the corpses and vehicles.

READ: How the Ampatuans allegedly killed 58 people

Who were the victims?

Mangudadatu’s wife, Bai Gigi, other female relatives and supporters were among those killed, along with 32 media workers who were going to cover the filing of the mayor's candidacy.

Mangudadatu told the court that his family and advisers decided to send his wife and other female family members to file his certificate of candidacy, confident that no harm would come to them because Islam, the dominant religion in the Muslim autonomous region, commands utmost respect for women.

Six other victims were just passing by the crime scene when they were killed.

Why were they killed?

Mangudadatu, who is also from a ruling political family in Mindanao, was running to end the 20-year rule of the Ampatuans in Maguindanao.

Witness accounts showed that members of the Ampatuan clan met several times to plan the killing of Mangudadatu.

In his testimony, Mangudadatu said that the Ampatuans had personally asked him at least twice to drop his political bid: on July 20, 2009 during a meeting with then Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro and three weeks later, at a dinner with then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The powerful Ampatuans were known political allies of the former president.

Mangudadatu turned down the request.

Badal testified that the plan to assassinate Mangudadatu was born just moments after he first refused to give in to the request of the Ampatuans.

Who is Toto Mangudadatu?

Maguindanao Second District Representative Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu

The 51-year-old Mangudadatu is now Second District Representative of Maguindanao.

He began his political career as provincial board member, served as mayor of Buluan for three terms or a total of nine years before returning as vice mayor.

Mangudadatu won as Maguindanao governor in May 2010, six months after the gruesome massacre. He served three full terms before running for Congress this year.

The Mangudadatus have kept a tight grip on the province which is now led by its first lady governor, Bai Mariam Sangki-Mangudadatu, who beat her husband's cousin in the May 2019 elections.

Mangudadatu earlier told CNN Philippines he is confident a guilty verdict would finally be handed down.

While he has forgiven some members of the Ampatuan clan, Mangudadatu stressed the battle won’t be over until justice is served.

Sige, okay, forgive ko sila, but still, 'yung justice, hahanapin natin… Pwedeng i-let go pero kailangan ng hustisya,” the lawmaker told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

[Translation: Okay, I’ll forgive them. But still, we will look for justice. We can let it go, but we need justice.]

Who are the Ampatuans?

Long before facing trial for the infamous bloodbath, the Ampatuans were already known as a powerful warlord clan in Mindanao.

The family and its private army, allegedly composed of up to 5,000 militiamen, police, and military personnel, have been linked to killings, torture, sexual assault, abductions, and other cases of human rights abuses, according to an investigation by international advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

The group looked into 52 alleged crimes of the family, noting that the police "routinely failed to conduct serious investigations" and no one was ever sent to prison.

One case mentioned by the prosecution took place in 1995 when witnesses saw then assemblyman Zaldy Ampatuan shoot Akas Paglala, who was on his way to file his candidacy for Magonoy mayor, a post held by the Ampatuan patriarch.

Andal Sr. started building his political empire in the 1970s following the late President Ferdinand Marcos’ declaration of martial law. He was appointed commander of a paramilitary unit before getting elected as vice mayor and then mayor of Magonoy.

The family patriarch became Maguindanao governor in 2000. He later named five towns after family members. Shariff Aguak, formerly Magonoy, was named after his father while Datu Unsay was named after his son. Andal Sr.’s son succeeded him as governor in 2005.

Who are the other accused?

Also charged were 65 policemen and 90 others accused of involvement in the shocking crime, including alleged members of the Ampatuans’ private army, which the family claimed did not exist.

Of the 197 originally charged with multiple murder, 90 were detained, including Unsay. Eleven were freed on bail, including Sajid Ampatuan; eight were cleared.

Eight of the original accused died during the 10-year trial of the case, including clan patriarch Andal Sr., who succumbed to liver cancer, while 80 remain at large.

READ: Hunt down Maguindanao massacre suspects at large, PH gov't told

READ: Hunt down Maguindanao massacre suspects at large, PH gov't told

What will happen on Thursday, December 19?

What is dubbed as the trial of the decade will finally come to a close, when Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes hands down her verdict on the 101 who faced the full trial.

Families of the victims are confident that they will secure a conviction, but not for all suspects.

Alam namin kung sino ‘yung may strong na kaso. Mayroon kasing iba na hindi na-establish ‘yung kanilang pag-conspire so I think they will be freed like ‘yung ibang mga pulis na kararating lang walang alam pero nasama siya,” said Nena Santos, lawyer for the families of 38 victims.

[Translation: We know who we have a strong case against. There are some whose involvement in the conspiracy was not established so I think they will be freed like some of the policemen who were just assigned there and knew nothing but were included in the charges.]

READ: 'One conviction enough as Christmas gift for kin of Maguindanao Massacre victims'

The media can air the ruling live through a feed from PTV4 as ordered by the Supreme Court.

Security is tight at Camp Bagong Diwa where the court will issue the ruling. Supporters and relatives of the victims and the accused are expected to be present.

Who is Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes?

Solis-Reyes was not the first pick to handle the Maguindanao massacre case.

It was first assigned to Judge Luisito Cortez but he declined the case for fear for his safety and that of his family.

Then-Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno met with Quezon City justices a day after Cortez backed out, assuring them of security and reminding them that more inhibitions from the case could erode the public’s trust in the judiciary.

The case landed in the court of Solis-Reyes after that.

Before being assigned as Quezon City judge, Solis-Reyes worked in the Public Attorney's Office. After a three-year stint there PAO, she entered the prosecution service where she stayed for five years. She then served as the presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court of Angeles and Olongapo from 2001 until 2004.

The SC had intervened to speed up the Maguindanao massacre trial. Solis-Reyes was expected to issue a verdict on the 10th anniversary of the massacre, but asked more time.

What penalties can the accused face?

Each of the accused faces 58 counts of murder. If they are convicted, they will be imprisoned from 20 to 40 years for each count of murder.

The Revised Penal Code, however, provides that when convicts have to serve two or more sentences, they will do it simultaneously. In addition, no convict can stay in jail for longer than 40 years.

READ: ‘Not enough’ evidence vs. Ampatuan Jr. for guilty verdict in Maguindanao massacre case, lawyer says

Why is this verdict important?

The Maguindanao massacre put the Philippines alongside states like Somalia and Iraq — countries that have topped the Global Impunity Index for their failure to prosecute the murder of journalists.

This year, the Philippines maintained its fifth place on the list partly due to the massacre. The country has been on the list for 11 years.

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security hopes that the country's ranking would improve if convictions are secured against those involved in the worst election-related violence in the country and the single deadliest attack on journalists in the world.

READ: Zero conviction in Maguindanao massacre case would mean death of press freedom, lawyer says

CNN Philippines’ Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.