Appeals court affirms go signal for witnesses vs Ampatuan

Four witnesses, including forensic experts, who were not in the pre-trial order will be allowed to testify in the Maguindanao massacre case

File Photo/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Court of Appeals (CA) has upheld the decision of a Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) to allow 4 witnesses, including two National Bureau of Investigation forensic experts, to testify in the infamous Maguindanao massacre case.

The CA dismissed the petition for certoriari filed by principal suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr, who questioned the inclusion of new witnesses who were not included in the pre-trial order. 

Ampatuan Jr’s petition assailed the order of RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes allowing Atty Gemma Oquendo, NBI Forensic Expert Examiners R. Paruli and Sherwin Uy, and Philippine Army Captain Julius Gundayao to be witnesses at his bail hearings.

Ampatuan Jr said the witnesses were not listed in the pre-trial order, hence the orders made by Reyes were issued “with grave abuse of discretion” because they violate his right to a fair and speedy trial. He also claimed it violated Supreme Court Circular A.M. No. 03-1-09 without good cause being shown.

In his 9-page decision, however, CA Justice Ricardo Rosario said on July 3 that Ampatuan Jr’s petition was without merit.

He explained: “Evidently, ‘for good cause shown,’ the trial judges have the discretion to allow the presentation of evidence not identified and marked during trial, and by implication, also the presentation of witnesses not named in the pre-trial briefs.”

Conversely, the decision said, “the trial judges also have the discretion to exclude witnesses and other evidence nor listed in the pre-trial belief.”

Rosario also said, “Courts have the prerogative to relax procedural rules of even the most mandatory character, mindful of the duty to reconcile both the need to speedily put an end to litigation and the parties’ right to due process.”

Rosario said that the Supreme Court has reiterated the doctrine that “the rules of procedure are mere tools intended to facilitate rather than that to frustrate the attainment of justice.”

Worst political massacre 

On November 23, 2009, 58 people – 32 of them journalists – were killed in what has been described as the worst political massacre.

Ampatuan Jr allegedly ordered the massacre to stop political rival Esmael Mangudadatu from running against him in the race for governor of Maguindanao.

READ: Ampatuan Massacre remembered on Sunday

In May, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said President Benigno Aquino III wants the conviction of the suspects before his term ends in 2016. 

READ: DOJ: Ampatuan massacre convictions by 2016

The Ampatuan clan ruled Maguindanao for decades, but expanded their influence under the patronage of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who had used the clan’s militia to go against Muslim separatist rebels and for alleged election fraud. – Rappler.com

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