Gov't lawyers divided on live coverage of Ampatuan trial

 DIVIDED. De Lima said the prosecutors cannot agree if they want the Maguindanao trial to be aired live or not.

MANILA, Philippines - The prosecution has yet to make up its mind if it will challenge a Supreme Court ruling banning the live coverage of the Maguindanao massacre trial.

Three years after the massacre that killed 58 people -- considered the country's worst election-related violence in recent history -- the prosecution has so far presented 101 witnesses against the Ampatuans, the principal suspects in the murders. The hearings began in January 2010.

A Quezon City trial court handling the case has already held 264 hearing dates, according to the Supreme Court. There are 196 accused, 98 of whom have been arrested and 81 have been arraigned. 

The prosecution and the defense have filed 307 motions, 204 of which have been resolved. Following the motions filed, 447 comments, oppositions, rejoinders and manifestations have been filed. The records of the Ampatuan case have reached 48 volumes. 

The SC said, however, that Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 of the Quezon City regional trial court, to whom the case was raffled off, "has already exerted a tremendous amount of effort and work."

The High Court said the "speedy disposition" of the case depends on "the cooperation of all the parties and actors involved."

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said on Thursday, November 22 - a day before the 3rd anniversary of the massacre - that private and public prosecutors have contrasting opinions on whether they would ask the Court to reconsider its earlier ruling that favored former Maguindanao Gov Andal Ampatuan Sr.,  one of the principal suspects in the case. 

Ampatuan filed a partial motion for reconsideration seeking for a reversal of the 2011 SC decision that allowed the live coverage of the trial. His camp argued that the live coverage violates his right to presumption of innocence and equal protection of the law. The SC granted his motion on October 23. 

De Lima said she wants the High Court to reconsider its decision, but added the prosecutors have yet to decide if they will push for a live coverage of the trial or not. 

"I think merong difference of opinions among prosecutors both public and private kung acceptable sa kanila ruling ng SC (I think there is a difference of opinions among prosecutors, both public and private, if the SC decision is acceptable for them)," she said.

De Lima said she and President Benigno Aquino III want the trial to be aired live, though.

"'Pag nakatutok ang publiko, mas maingat ang mga players," (With the people watching the trial, the players will be more careful)," she said.

No need for new prosecutors 

De Lima said they do not need additional prosecutors. There are 21 public prosecutors and 14 private prosecutors even as the case has dragged on for 3 years already and is seen to proceed longer. 

De Lima said the delays in the case are due to the "penchant" of the defense to question the presentation of witnesses. 

The defense has filed numerous cases with the Court of Appeals, questioning the prosecution's move to put some people on the witness stand. The defense said they are not qualified to testify on the case. These include militiaman Esmael Canapia and Inspector Ariel Diongon. - Rappler.com