The government says they’re both.
But under the present state of the law, they cannot be charged with rebellion and still stand trial for murder. Murder, and all other incidental crimes related to rebellion, will be subsumed in the latter charge. And while the Penal Code allows separate prosecutions for either murder or rebellion, rebels cannot be charged for both where the indictment alleges that the former has been committed in furtherance of or in connection with the latter.
The Ampatuans can literally get away with murder if they know how.
However, most people know them to be just plain murderous cutthroats.
So what happens now ?
My guess is that the Department of Justice will later on withdraw the charge of rebellion and charge them with murder and other crimes. After all, the cases are still in the pre-arraignment or pre-trail investigation stage. The public prosecutors have the option of determining which prosecutions should be initiated on the basis of the evidence on hand.
Why charge them with rebellion if eventually this would be dropped ? The purported state of rebellion was the main justification for declaring martial law and rounding up the Ampataun forces without setting off a bloodbath.
The danger of this strategy is that the government has, intentionally or not, given a way out for the Ampatuans. They will now claim to be rebels. It is easier (given the clear-cut evidence) and much more serious for them to be convicted of murder than rebellion. As rebels, they will not only claim the right to bail but will have more than an even chance of walking away scot-free, as numerous examples, from Gringo Honasan to Nur Misuari, will show. Andal Ampatuan, Sr. might even run for the Senate and win.
Of course, the Ampatuans have the burden of proving that the political (meaning ideological) purpose or motive for the mass killings were in pursuit of rebellion. And given the overwhelming proof against them, they will have a hell of a time trying to prove their innocence. And rebellion is not the escape hatch it once was for criminals. As noted in Enrile v. Salazar (186 SCRA 217 ):
It may be that in the light of contemporary events, the act of rebellion has lost that quintessentially quixotic quality that justifies the relative leniency with which it is regarded and punished by law, that present-day rebels are less impelled by love of country than by lust for power and have become no better than mere terrorists to whom nothing, not even the sancity of human life, is allowed to stand in the way of their ambitions. Nothing so chronicles this aberration as the rash of seemingly senseless killings, bombings, kidnappings and assorted mayhem so much in the news these days, as often perpetrated against innocent civilians as against the military, but by and large attributable to, or even claimed by so called rebels to be part of, an ongoing rebellion.
I just hope that our prosecutors will show sufficent courage, vigor and thoroughness in nailing the killers. This would be a hard case to lose, but stranger things have happened. And the Ampatuans will be fighting for their lives and the very survival of their clan. As of last count, they had some 40 lawyers, including some heavy hitters, signed up.