CA reverses Maguindanao massacre ruling, finds cop guilty

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — The Court of Appeals has found a police officer guilty in the Maguindanao massacre case, reversing the decision of a Quezon City Regional Trial Court judge.

In the decision released on Thursday, the CA found SPO2 Badawi Bakal guilty beyond reasonable doubt as an accessory to the 57 counts of murder for the gruesome massacre on November 23, 2009.

The court ruled that Bakal had knowledge of the crime when he threatened and prevented a witness from disclosing what he had seen on the day of the massacre. It said the accused also admitted he feared that disclosing his knowledge about the abduction of the family members of Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu and their supporters will put him and his family in danger.

The court said this only leads to the inevitable conclusion that Bakal was aware of the existence of the crime.

"Being a police officer in the active service, SPO2 Bakal abused his public office when he concealed the identities of the accused; he failed to effect or cause their immediate arrest; and he contributed to the delay in the investigation," the CA said in a 34-page decision penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr. on Monday.

The court sentenced Bakal to imprisonment of four years and two months of prison correccional as minimum to 10 years of prison mayor as maximum for each of the 57 counts of murder. He also has to pay for civil indemnity and damages to the family of the 57 victims.

'Utter disregard' of evidence

The CA said Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes "grossly mis-appreciated and overlooked" relevant evidence that was available when she acquitted Bakal in December 2019.

"The respondent court's blatant disregard of material evidence resulted in a violation of the people's right to due process. It amounted to a mistrial," the decision read.

"The Omnibus Order, with respect to the acquittal of private respondent SPO2 Bakal, is but a void judgement. It cannot be considered to have attained finality," it added,

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court convicted 43 accused, including eight members of the powerful Ampatuan political clan. Another 56 accused were acquitted.

The crime stands as the worst election-related violence in the country and the deadliest attack on journalists in the world after the killing of 31 media workers who tailed the Mangudadatu family's convoy in the filing of Esmael Mangudadatu's gubernatorial candidacy.

The mass killing claimed 58 lives, but the body of slain photojournalist Reynaldo Momay was never recovered in the mass grave of the bloody incident.

CNN Philippines justice correspondent Anjo Alimario contributed to this report.