[JURIST] The Philippine Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] on Tuesday charged 197 people with murder [press release] in connection with the November massacre in the semi-autonomous Maguindanao province that left 57 dead. Among those charged is Andal Ampatuan Sr., a former political ally to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [official website; BBC profile], head of a Muslim clan, and former governor of Maguindanao province. Prosecutors allege that the powerful Ampatuan clan took supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu [Manila Times profile], Ampatuan's son's opposition candidate in the May Maguindanao governor elections, Mangudadatu's wife and pregnant sister, and journalists to a remote hilltop where the victims were murdered and buried. A PDOJ panel, headed by Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera, created a 78-page resolution concluding that the massacre was the result of a conspiracy. The PDOJ also submitted evidence to conclude that members of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) [official websites] participated in the preparation and massacre. The resolution states:
Considering such positive identification of these respondents as direct participants in the commission of the crime of murder, they should be indicted. ... There is direct evidence that these respondents agreed to commit the crime. Their acts and the attendant circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime unveil a common aim that would make all of them co-principals in the crime committed.
In December, the PDOJ began the trial [JURIST report] of more than 600 people charged with rebellion for allegedly interfering with government operations following the killings. Several of Amapuan Sr.'s sons, including Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of the southern Philippine town of Datu Unsay, have also been charged. Amapuan Jr. has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 41 counts of murder. Arroyo imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in the province in the wake of the killings. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].