SC records show Midas, not Sereno, sat on Mamasapano transfer request

MANILA, Philippines – Who's responsible for the delay in transferring the Mamasapano murder trial from Cotabato City to Metro Manila? It's the Office of Court Administrator (OCA) Midas Marquez, said the Supreme Court (SC) Public Information Office (PIO) on Friday, January 26.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II issued a statement on January 25, the 3rd anniversary of the bloody Mamasapano operations, saying that Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno has not responded to their one-year-old request to transfer the trial to Metro Manila. It was cited as one of the reasons why the trial for murder against 88 respondents has not yet started.

Citing SC records, the PIO press statement said, “Under the applicable procedure, considering the request involves the lower courts, the Office of the Chief Justice wrote an endorsement letter dated February 9, 2017 which was sent to the Court Administrator on February 13, 2017 and stamped received by the Office of the Court Administrator on February 14, 2017.” 

Court spokesman Theodore Te is head of the Supreme Court PIO.

Aguirre also said in the statement that the prosecutor general followed up their request on December 5, 2017, but just the same, the SC PIO said it was referred and received by the OCA immediately.

“The Court Administrator sent a recommendation dated January 15, 2018 to the Clerk of Court En Banc on January 25, 2018,” the SC PIO said.

The SC PIO added that the en banc received it 2 pm of January 25, or only hours after Aguirre issued the statement.

Asked for comment, Marquez said: “We have to follow usual procedure where we have to get comments of the judge and other parties concerned. Then the Legal Office will evaluate. That can take time, more so since the judge and the parties are in Mindanao.”

Maute transfer

The spats between Sereno and Marquez have been among the isues exposed in the ongoing impeachment hearing against the Chief Justice at the House of Representatives.

Marquez was sidelined in the approval of application for survivorship benefits. Marquez blamed the groups created by Sereno for causing the "inordinate delay" in the grant of benefits.

On the issue of a transfer request, it was also revealed during the hearing that when Sereno transferred the Maute trial to Cagayan de Oro, she also sidelined Marquez’s recommendation to move it to Taguig, as Aguirre requested. 

Justice Noel Tijam even accused Sereno of "mental dishonesty" when the Chief Justice allegedly decided only by herself to transfer the trial to Cagayan de Oro.

On the Mamasapano cases, the SC PIO’s statement read as a defense for Sereno.

"In the Maute request, the OCJ directly endorsed this to the Court En Banc without referring it to the OCA because of the ongoing violence in Marawi City and the need to take immediate action; in the request for transfer of venue in the Mamasapano incident, the OCJ followed the standard procedure of referring the matter to the OCA because there were no ongoing hostilities,” the statement said.

This latest episode further showed the fissures inside the Supreme Court.

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.