Biweekly hearings for massacre start today
- Aie Balagtas See () - December 1, 2010 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines – The biweekly court hearings for the Maguindanao massacre will start today.

Prosecution lawyers led by Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon are also set to present two witnesses each trial date.

The 9 a.m. hearings are scheduled every Wednesday and Thursday of the month or Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 15, and 16 at the makeshift courtroom in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Court Branch 221 earlier approved the new schedule in order to expedite the year-old trial, which was predicted by litigation lawyer and Sen. Joker Arroyo to last for 200 years.

The prosecution and defense panels requested that the new schedule continue until January next year, but Reyes rejected the proposal because of lack of staff.

She added that her pairing with judge Vivencio Baclig of Quezon City court branch 77 will only last until the end of this month.

Prosecution lawyer Harry Roque, meanwhile, said the Aquino administration has not given reparation to the families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre and the absence of assistance from the government might just force some of them not to pursue the case. 

“Out of sheer poverty, some of them may be forced to accept loose change from the accused (in exchange for not pursuing the case),” Roque said during a health forum sponsored by the Philippine College of Physicians. 

The forum centered on the anguish and the trauma experienced by victims of violence like the Maguindanao massacre. Roque said continuous psycho-social counseling for the families of the victims was never provided by the government from the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo up to the present.

He said there was a group therapy that was conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development during Arroyo’s term but it was held only once. 

Concerned groups later facilitated the therapy for the victims’ families but this was eventually stopped about six months ago after the psychiatrist who led the doctors in the counseling fell ill.

Roque said the government has the obligation to provide the victims’ families not just compensation but also reparation, especially because some of those involved were state agents. 

He stressed that the compensation and reparation from the government are entirely different from the civil indemnities that the victims’ families expect to be awarded if and when the court decides in their favor in the pending multiple murder case.

Meantime, Psychiatrist Dr. Hazel Soriano from the Philippine General Hospital, part of the team of doctors who helped the victims in the counseling, said some of the orphaned families “manifested psychiatric symptoms.”

“Some were withdrawn,” Soriano said, adding that there is a need for continuous therapy for the families because some who might seem to have “recovered” already might still develop symptoms years later. 

Roque said some of the families had received P250,000 each – at most – as financial assistance from the government since the massacre happened in November last year.

The Arroyo government gave the victims’ families P100,000 each while the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office under the Aquino administration gave P150,000 to the families of the slain journalists. 

NPC wants special court

Meanwhile, the National Press Club (NPC) yesterday expressed confidence that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima will eventually support its petition to the Supreme Court to constitute a special court to speed up the trial.

In a statement, the NPC expressed confidence that as soon as De Lima reads the petition she will understand that it is not a petition for a new judge to be assigned to the special court, as what she had previously thought it was.

The NPC agrees with the justice secretary’s position that a new judge would only lead to more delay because of the need to study first the case before the trial can be resumed.

The petition filed by the NPC, together with the Alyansa ng Filipinong Mamamahayag (Afima), seeks to constitute the same court handling the trial as the special court.

If the NPC petition is granted, the court that will handle the “trial of the decade” will still be the same court, Quezon City RTC branch 221, and handled by the same judge, Solis-Reyes.

The petition asked the High Tribunal to relieve Solis-Reyes of all other cases and other duties to ensure that she would focus on the Maguindanao massacre trial.

The NPC also praised De Lima for her proposal to have a pairing judge working side by side with Solis-Reyes. “Rest assured that the NPC will amend its petition to include the proposal of constituting a pairing judge,” the NPC said.

The petition also seeks the installation of television or LCD monitors just outside the court to allow the public and the media to observe the proceedings. – With Reinir Padua, Sandy Araneta

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