THE 78 suspects, including some members of the influential Ampatuan clan, on Wednesday entered a not guilty plea to a 58th murder charge hurled against them in connection with the gruesome 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
Patriarch former Maguindanao gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. as well as his sons former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and former Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. were among those who pleaded not guilty to the murder of the 58th victim of the massacre, Midland Review photojournalist Reynalo “Bebot” Momay.
Arraigned along with the Ampatuans were members of their supposed private army and local policemen in Maguindanao.
The 78 suspects were arraigned before Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes at the Quezon City Jail annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City, where most of the suspects are detained.
The charges were filed after the Department of Justice (DOJ) found sufficient evidence linking the suspects to the killing of Momay.
The DOJ conducted an investigation after the slain photojournalist’s daughter, Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo, filed a complaint against the suspects.
In March, Reynafe appealed to the DOJ to include her father in the ongoing massacre case being heard by Solis.
In its investigation, the DOJ found that the victim was indeed part of the ill-fated convoy, composed of journalists and relatives of then Buluan vice mayor and gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu.
Momay was added last year to the original 57 victims of the Maguindanao massacre, after a team from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) recovered parts of his dentures and not his remains at the crime site at Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan town.
For more than three years since the murder trial started, over 100 suspects are already in police custody, while around 90 remain at large.
The massacre victims were part of an electoral convoy that was supposed to register Mangudadatu for the 2010 automated polls, going up against the Ampatuan clan.
Mangudadatu eventually won the 2010 gubernatorial race and was re-elected in the recently held midterm elections.
Ritchie A. Horario