Maguindanao massacre: Andal Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan convicted; brother walks free

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Brothers Datu Andal Zaldy Ampatuan (L) and Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan, Jr. (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 19) — Eight members of the Ampatuan clan were found guilty and sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison for the murder of 57 people in Maguindanao ten years ago.

Among those convicted were Datu Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan, Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan, and Datu Anwar, Sr. – sons of the late former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. who prosecution witnesses said masterminded the crime.

Another son of Andal Sr., Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan, was acquitted, with three other relatives.

READ: How silence and a medical mission cleared two of the main accused

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes announced the verdict on Thursday, more than 10 years after the mass killing.

The dispositive portion of Judge Solis-Reyes' 761-page decision, which was read in court, said the prosecution was able to "establish the guilt beyond reasonable doubt" of 28 accused "who are found to have acted as principal."

Other convicted members of the powerful Ampatuan clan include Andal Sr.'s grandsons, Datu Anwar Sajid "Ulo" and Datu Anwar "Ipi,"Jr., along with Mohades and Misuari Ampatuan.

They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua, or a maximum of 40 years in jail, without benefit of parole. They were also ordered to pay millions of pesos in damages to the victims' families.

Some policemen, led by then acting provincial police director Major Sukarno Dicay, and a number of civilians got the same punishment.

The lawyers of Unsay and Zaldy said they will file a motion for reconsideration in the next 15 days. They are now detained in the New Bilibid Prison, the national penitentiary, along with fellow convicts.

Meanwhile, 14 cops and an Ampatuan aide named Bong Andal, were sentenced to six to 10 years of imprisonment for being accessories to the crime.

Sajid Islam, who was out on bail, was given five days to explain why he should not be cited in contempt for skipping the promulgation.

Fifty-six others were acquitted, including Jonathan and Jimmy Ampatuan, and Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr.

However, a question still hangs over the verdict as the court appeared to have both acquitted and convicted PSupt. Bahnarin Kamaong. Solis-Reyes, responding to the inquiry of Kamaong's lawyer, said she will review her decision.

LIST: Verdict on Maguindanao massacre suspects

The court ordered the arrest of 80 suspects who remain at large.

READ: Manhunt on for Maguindanao massacre fugitives

All of the accused were acquitted of murder in connection with the death of photojournalist Reynaldo Momay, whose body was never found. This could have been the 58th murder charge. Lawyer Harry Roque said the camp will appeal the court's dismissal of the Momay family's claim for damages.

READ: Family of 58th Maguindanao massacre victim still searching for justice

The 2009 Maguindanao massacre

Witnesses said Unsay, then mayor of Datu Unsay town, and members of his family's armed group killed 58 people – shooting them and hastily burying their corpses on a hilltop in Ampatuan town – on November 23, 2009.

The plan was to murder then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, who was going to run against Unsay for Maguindanao governor. Sukarno Badal, former vice mayor of Sultan sa Barongis town, who claimed to be a commander of the Ampatuan clan's private army, said Ampatuan Sr. started convening relatives, political advisers, and allies to discuss the plot to kill Mangudadatu in July 2009 when the latter refused to withdraw his candidacy bid. The powerful Ampatuans were allied with then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Witness accounts showed that everything was set for November 23, 2009. A heavily armed Unsay was seen with other armed men guarding checkpoints in the town of Ampatuan. But their target, Mangudadatu, was nowhere to be found.

READ: How the Ampatuans allegedly killed 58 people

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

The Mangudadatu women were among the 58 people who were shot to death when their convoy of eight vehicles were ambushed that morning. Their corpses, along with 32 journalists who were going to cover the event, were hastily buried in three shallow graves on a hilltop. Six other civilians who were just passing by were also killed.

The Maguindanao massacre has been tagged as the world's deadliest single attack on media workers, and the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.

'Long fight' ahead

Mangudadatu rejoiced over the court's decision, saying it was still a victory even if not all the accused were given a jail sentence.

"Ang sampung taong paghihintay ay naging makabuluhan dahil tayo ang kinatigan ng hustisya (Ten years of waiting had been meaningful because justice was on our side)," he said.

In an earlier interview with CNN Philippines, he ackowledged the case is not closed yet because the Ampatuans can still file their appeal until the case reaches the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.

"Matagal na proseso 'yan. Hindi natin maituturing na closure, long fight pa ito (That's a long process. This can't be considered a closure, there's a long fight ahead)," Mangudadatu said.

Malacañang welcomed the court's decision, calling on the parties involved to do the same.

"Those who disagree with the judgements of the court have legal remedies under disposal. Ultimately, it will be the Supreme Court that will give the final judgement. For now, what is important is that the rule of law has prevailed," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, who previously served as lawyer for the Ampatuans, said in a statement.

CNN Philippines' Lara Tan and Melissa Lopez contributed to this report.