MANILA, Philippines – When will justice come for the 58 victims of the gruesome Maguindanao massacre in 2009 and the families they left behind?
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Friday, November 23, the 9th anniversary of the massacre, that the trial “has now reached the endgame.”
Guevarra said he is confident about the case handled by his prosecutors against the alleged mastermind, Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr, who has been detained since 2009.
“I am confident that the prosecution has presented more than sufficient evidence, at least as against the principal accused, to secure a just decision next year,” said Guevarra.
To this day, the massacre is considered the deadliest attack on journalists in the world and the worst election-related case of violence in Philippine history.
Of the 58 people who died, 32 were journalists who joined the convoy of then-Buluan vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu when he filed his candidacy for governor against Andal Ampatuan Jr, a member of the powerful Ampatuan clan.
The convoy was attacked on their way to the poll office.
According to the latest update of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), of the 197 charged, 97 remain in detention, including Andal Jr. Eleven are out on bail including his brother Datu Sajid Islam, 9 have been cleared, some due to deaths, while 80 are still at large.
Families of some of the victims went to Manila on Thursday, November 22, for a small gathering as they called for a guilty verdict.
“We have waited too long and have given so much to the case over the years,” reads their collective statement issued by the Center for International Law (CenterLaw), which served as their lawyers.
Trial has dragged on for nearly a decade without a single conviction, which highlights the flaws of the country’s criminal justice system.
“We could have done it faster but we have no complete control over the pace of the trial. Those are multiple murder cases with hundreds of accused individuals with their own separate counsel,” said Guevarra.
Malacañang has yet to issue a statement, even as the Duterte administration vowed to protect journalists through the creation of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS).
Malacañang’s chief legal adviser, and currently the presidential spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, used to be a lawyer for the Ampatuans.
Former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who used to be with CenterLaw representing the victims, said on Friday that judges have to be more “inquisitorial” to deliver justice.
“Under an inquisitorial system, getting justice would not depend on the skill of the lawyers on either side, but rest just as heavily on the judge as an active inquisitor,” said Roque.
Roque said that while the news that the case has been submitted for resolution is a welcome development, “ I urge us to consider a legal system where no one need wait 9 years for justice.” – Rappler.com