Kin appeals release of ‘wrong’ Ampatuan massacre suspect
GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- The family of one of the acquitted suspects in the 2009 Ampatuan massacre, who was previously ruled by a court here as “wrongfully accused due to mistaken identity,” appealed on Monday for his immediate release.
Rhean Gofel, daughter of acquitted suspect Richard, said they are hoping that her father will be released from detention in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City in the next two days so he can finally return home.
“We waited for so long; it’s more than eight years
already. His release will be the best gift to us this Christmas,” she said in the vernacular during an interview at their home in Purok Minanga, Barangay Buayan here.
Rhean said they learned from a family friend on Friday that her father was among those due for release after being acquitted by Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of involvement in the Maguindanao massacre case.
But she said his release reportedly remains pending due to required clearances and supposed submission of some documents.
Richard, a fish vendor, was arrested on Aug. 17, 2011 in Barangay Taluya in Glan, Sarangani in connection with the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao but was released later that day supposedly due to lack of evidence.
But elements from the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group-Region 12 arrested him anew the following day at his residence in Purok Minanga, Barangay Buayan here after he was allegedly identified by a witness as suspect Fahad Utto, who was listed as a member of the Civilian Volunteer Organization in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao.
His family sought intervention from the RTC Branch 35, which then issued a writ of habeas corpus for Richard.
In a hearing on Sept. 13, 2011, RTC Branch 35 Judge Oscar Noel ordered Richard’s release noting that the latter was clearly not the fugitive massacre suspect Fahad Utto based on the established differences on their facial and physical features.
His identity was also backed by his neighbors, friends and community leaders in Barangay Buayan.
But Solis-Reyes did not quash Richard’s commitment order, a requirement in Noel’s ruling, to the Camp Bagong Diwa and proceeded with his trial.
Rhean, who was only 8-years-old when her father was arrested, said their family suffered so much in the last eight years as they mainly depended on his income as a fish vendor.
She said her younger brother died due to an illness while her father was in detention.
“But we’re just grateful that this is over. We just want him to return home the soonest possible,” she said.
Rafael Tumulac, Richard’s godfather, said he is happy that justice was finally served for the latter.
“We knew that the was innocent from the start. He lost a lot because of the ordeal but we’re here to help him,” he said.
Richard Gofel’s former counsel and now Maasim, Sarangani municipal judge, Chalmer Gevieso, said he was not surprised with his acquittal.
He said there was no evidence and testimony that his former client was at the scene of the crime in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao when the massacre happened.
“The truth is, he was never there. He had never been to Maguindanao,” he said.