Planners of Maguindanao massacre found guilty of murder in Philippines 'trial of the decade'

Suspects in the Maguindanao Massacre are escorted by policemen as they arrive at Camp Bagong Diwa, where a court will issue a verdict on the crime, on December 19, 2019 in Manila, Philippines.

Manila, Philippines (CNN)The men who planned a massacre which rocked the Philippines' political establishment more than a decade ago have been found guilty of murder.

On November 23, 2009, 58 people were killed in the town of Ampatuan, in the southern province of Maguindanao. Their bodies were buried in three shallow graves on a hilltop.
The wife and sister of political candidate Ismael "Toto" Mangudadatu and 30 journalists were among the victims.
    Mangudadatu had sent his family members to file paperwork allowing him to run for governor of Maguindanao.
    Their convoy was ambushed, sprayed with bullets -- after which the survivors were ruthlessly hunted down and executed.
    Mangudadatu was running to end the 20-year rule of the Ampatuan family. His rival in the election was Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., also known as Unsay, mayor of Datu Unsay town, and son of the incumbent governor, Andal Ampatuan, Sr.
    On Thursday, a judge in Manila found Ampatuan Jr. -- along with several other relatives and primary suspects -- guilty on multiple accounts of murder. They were sentenced to life in prison.
    "This is momentous verdict should help provide justice to the families of the victims, and build towards greater accountability for rights abuses in the country," said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director, Human Rights Watch."
    "Advocates should use this verdict to spur further political and judicial reforms to ultimately end the impunity that has plagued the country for far too long. More broadly, this verdict should prompt the country's political leaders to finally act to end state support for 'private armies' and militias that promotes the political warlordism that gave rise to the Ampatuans."
    Members of the police special action force stand guard at a gate of the capital command headquarters in Manila on December 19, 2019.
    Within months of the massacre, an investigation had pointed to a well-planned conspiracy orchestrated by the Ampatuan family, and involving members of the Philippines police and army. Some 200 suspects were detained, amid a national outcry which saw the central government impose martial law.
    The scandal resulted in an end to the Ampatuans grip on politics in Maguindanao.
    Toto Mangudadatu became governor in May 2010, according to CNN Philippines, six months after the massacre. He served three terms before running successfully for Congress this year.
    Speaking to CNN Philippines, Mangudadatu said he could "forgive" those responsible, "but still, we will look for justice. We can let it go, but we need justice."
    Supporters and journalists hold a rally in front of the gate of the capital command headquarters in Manila on December 19, 2019.