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Key facts in worst Philippine political massacre

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Philippine congressman Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife and relatives were victims of the country’s worst political massacre, celebrates after the court’s verdict in the trial, in Taguig City, Manila on December 19, 2019. – The masterminds of the Philippines’ worst political massacre were on December 19 found guilty of murder, a decade after the slaughter in which gunmen killed 58 people in the conflict-plagued south of the country. (Photo by Maria TAN / AFP)

A Philippine court Thursday jailed 43 people — including key leaders of a powerful Muslim political clan — after finding them guilty in the trial of the 2009 mass killing of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers.

Here are some key facts from the case:

What happened?

A convoy carrying members of a local political clan — as well as many journalists — embarked on a well-publicised road trip to register a candidate for provincial elections. They were ambushed by a rival political clan, shot dead, and buried in roadside pits.

Investigators recovered 57 bodies and a set of dentures, leading them to believe 58 people died in total.

Why?

Top leaders of the Ampatuan family — one of the most powerful political dynasties in the country’s insurgency-wracked south — were accused of carrying out the slaughter to prevent their rivals from contesting gubernatorial elections in Maguindanao province.

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How many people were involved?

Some 90 defendants were in jail when the verdict was handed down Thursday, but out of the nearly 200 accused of the murder, 80 remain at large.

Eight defendants — including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Snr — died during the more than nine-year-long trial.

Who was found guilty?

The court found the patriarch’s namesake and would-be successor Andal Ampatuan Jnr guilty, along with 27 others — including seven siblings and relatives — and sentenced them to a minimum 30 years in prison.

Fourteen police officers and a member of the Ampatuan militia were also found guilty as accessories and sentenced to between six and 10 years in prison.

Who was acquitted and why?

Some 53 defendants — including two Ampatuan clan leaders and 30 police officers — were acquitted because their guilt could not be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt”, according to Manila regional trial court judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes’ 761-page verdict.

Three other accused police officers also walked free as “the evidence of the prosecution has absolutely failed to prove their guilt”, the ruling said.

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