Maguindanao massacre conviction by 2016? De Lima still optimistic

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Maguindanao massacre conviction by 2016? De Lima still optimistic
The Justice Secretary, however, stresses the pace of the trial would depend on the court

MANILA, Philippines – Although stressing that the speedy resolution of the Maguindanao massacre is up the court, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima remains hopeful that the Ampatuans will be convicted before Aquino steps down from office in 2016.  

“We have not made any commitment on this because it’s already up to the court. Our expectation, the efforts of the prosecution is towards achieving or posting a conviction of some of the principal accused by 2016, particularly the Ampatuans, particularly Datu Unsay [Ampatuan], ” Sec. de Lima said.

Former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, along with former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan are 3 of the 197 individuals accused in the brutal massacre of 58 victims, including 32 journalists. 

The Ampatuans were believed to have plotted the 2009 massacre to derail the political plans of rival Esmael Mangudadatu for the 2010 May elections. Mangudadatu is the incumbent governor of Maguindanao.

Case status

The Quezon City Regional Trial Court is currently hearing the rebuttal evidence of the defense. (READ: Conviction in PH ‘partial victory’ vs impunity)

The defense team is expected to present about 300 witnesses, causing concerns that it could delay the resolution of the case. 

“So can you just imagine how time consuming it would be? So, we are hoping that Judge Reyes will be able to control the proceedings, so that it won’t take long for the defense to present their evidence,” De Lima said.

De Lima recently took over the supervision of the Maguindanao massacre case amid an ongoing dispute between government prosecutors and two private lawyers over allegations of bribery and differences in legal strategy. 

SC rule

QC RTC Branch 221 presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is expected to take advantage of a Supreme Court resolution issued in December 2013 that is meant to expedite the trial.  

In a resolution, the high court directed Reyes to require remaining witnesses from both the prosecution and the defense panels to submit judicial affidavits instead of direct testimonies at least 10 days before the scheduled date of testimony. 

Under the “judicial affidavit rule,”  the lawyer would just be required to submit a written sworn statement of his witness in a question-and-answer format, doing away with the need to take the witness stand. 

The latest rule also authorizes Reyes to issue separate decisions for cases which are “ripe for resolution” and hold separated trials for the accused. 

In adopting the JAR, the Court noted that about 40% of criminal cases are dismissed annually because complainants simply give-up appearing in court due to repeated postponements.

A 3rd assisting judge has also been appointed to speed up the trial.  –

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