MANILA, Philippines – The Quezon City regional trial court judge handling the Maguindanao massacre trial has applied for a vacancy at the Court of Appeals (CA), threatening to further delay the ruling on one of the world’s worst case of election violence and media killing.
Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno told reporters on Thursday, July 2, that she has appealed to Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes to stay with the case, but Sereno said she can’t blame her if she wants a promotion.
“Sabi ko sa kanya, ‘Judge, huwag kang bibitiw sa kasong iyan. Sabi ko, ‘Please, huwag.‘ But she’s applying so sabi ko, ‘Naku!’ (I told her, ‘Judge, please don’t leave that case. I said, ‘Please, don’t.’ But she’s applying so I said, ‘Oh no!’),” Sereno told reporters, upon the release of the judiciary’s 2014 annual report.
She added: “You know her family is under watch. She has guards; even her children. It’s not an easy life so when you come face to face with the human being, she is telling you: ‘Chief, wala ba akong karapatang ma-promote man lang?’ Ang hirap sagutin noon, ‘no? (‘Chief, don’t I have the right to be promoted at least?’ It’s a difficult question, isn’t it?),” Sereno said.
Sereno said Reyes had also informed her that she was also eyeing the Sandiganbayan.
“I think you know what I want but I also have to be fair to the person. Regardless of what I told her before, I am trying to weigh things very, very carefully,” Sereno added.
Other judges have inhibited from the Maguindanao massacre case before Reyes accepted it.
The chief justice heads the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), the body that vets nominees to posts in the Philippine judiciary.
If Reyes gets a new post, Sereno said they will “find a way” to make sure that the case is “handled at the same pace.” (READ: Maguindanao massacre trial being expedited at maximum)
Aquino’s sore point, Sereno’s pride
The government’s failure to deliver swift justice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre has been a consistent “sore point” for the administration of President Benigno Aquino III, according to surveys of the the Social Weather Stations.
But Sereno said the public must understand that it is no ordinary case. The process is long because, unlike other murder cases, it involves so many murder victims.
She said she is “proud” of the way the case is being handled. She asked the public to give the court the “benefit of the doubt.”
Sereno cited the DNA evidence required to be presented for the identification of all 58 victims and the overwhelming number of police reports, medico-legal reports, cops and families of victims who need to be presented.
“Remember, there are 58 victims. There are 200 suspects and more than 100 of whom have already been arrested. You have witnesses that have reached more than 110 and the volume of records has already reached 44. We have hearings thrice a day,” Sereno said.
In a move to fast-track it, the court assigned 3 other judges to assist Reyes in coming up with a “partial judgment” that is expected to satisfy the public to “think that justice has been done.”
“On the part of judiciary, we have done everything we can and I think we are going to be proud of how we handle this case,” Sereno said.
2 massacres and a peace process
A year before the 2010 elections, journalists and the relatives and supporters of then Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Esmael Mangudadatu, who were in a convoy, were ambushed and massacred. Up to 58 peope were killed and burried in an attempt to hide the massacre. Among them were 32 journalists.
Members of the ruling Ampatuan clan, threatened by Mangudadatu’s bid, and their men are the only suspects in the gruesome massacre. They are facing trial for multiple murder.
The Ampatuan clan and its private armies have long lorded over the province that is at the center of the country’s Muslim rebellion. After the massacre, the war-torn province was placed under martial law and the Ampatuans were arrested.
Relative peace also prevailed as the administration of President Benigno Aquino III jumpstarted peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The administration is now trying to finalize a peace agreement that aims to create a new Bangsamoro region in Mindanao that, short of independence, will be given more powers and resources.
Ironically, this peace agreement was derailed by another so-called massacre in Maguindanao. In January 2015, as Congress deliberated a proposed law creating the Bangsamoro region, a botched police operation to arrest an international terrorist in rebel territory in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, threatened the peace process. (READ: Timeline: Mamasapano clash)
A day-long firefight with armed groups in the area – among them MILF members – killed 44 elite cops. along with MILF members and civilians. The bloodiest police operation in recent history stoked sympathy for the cops in spite of their blunders, turning citizens against the MILF and the peace process. – Rappler.com
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