Can justice be given to Maguindanao massacre victims within the Duterte administration? File photo by Ben Nabong/Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Convictions on two of the principal accused in the Maguindanao massacre may be handed down by 2018, or almost a decade after the incident, the chief of a presidential body against media killings said.
Undersecretary Joel Egco, head of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), gets monthly updates on the Maguindanao massacre case involving the killing of 58 people, including 32 journalists, on November 23, 2009 – the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.
A court decision on Akmad "Tato" Ampatuan Sr and Anwar Ampatuan Sr can be expected as early as first quarter of 2018, he said.
"We expect it, of course. Our best guess is probably within the first quarter or second probably of the next year," Egco said in a Rappler interview on Monday, November 20.
To help fast-track the process, Egco said the prosecution will file a memorandum for the court to decide on the cases of the two Ampatuans by the end of November.
"This month, the prosecution will file a memorandum to render judgment also for the two accused Ampatuans," he said.
Anwar Ampatuan Sr is the grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, the alleged mastermind of the massacre who died in July 2015. Akmad is Andal's son-in-law.
Anwar and Akmad are among the 13 accused whose cases have already been brought to the court for a decision after all evidence against them had been presented.
Egco said that based on the projection of Department of Justice (DOJ) officials closely watching the trial, the court may decide on all 188 of the accused in 4 years, or before President Rodrigo Duterte's term ends.
"We're seeing an end to everything in 4 years, meaning judgment shall have been rendered by that time for everyone, for all the accused," said Egco.
"That's what we're hoping for. We're seeing the light at the end of that (DOJ) statement," he added.
The 4-year projection was made by DOJ officials during their meeting with Egco last Friday, November 17.
Justice Assistant Secretary Juvy Manwong had explained that at the rate that the trial is proceeding, and if the defense presents the same number of witnesses as the prosecution has presented, a decision on the accused can be expected in 4 years.
The prosecution has already finished presenting its 190 witnesses while the defense has presented 63 witnesses so far, said Egco, citing data from documents filed before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
March to justice
Much work still needs to be done. While the presentation of evidence for 22 of the accused has been completed, the presentation of evidence is still ongoing for 21 of the accused.
While 106 of the 188 accused are in jail, 82 suspects remain at large.
The PTFoMS, in letters dated November 20, asked Philippine National Police chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa and National Bureau of Investigation chief Dante Gierran to "intensify" the manhunt for the 82 suspects.
The 2009 Maguindanao massacre is the single deadliest attack on journalists, according to international media watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists.
The massacre is the main reason why the Philippines is constantly at the top of lists of countries with the worst record in media killings.
Egco believes the country's standing in such lists would improve once those responsible for the attack are convicted. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.