Prosecutors in massacre trial rest case vs some respondents
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - After four years, the trial of some of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre is almost half over.

Lead prosecutor Archimedes Manabat informed the court on Thursday that the prosecution panel decided to rest their case against suspects who have no pending petitions before the courts.

This signifies the impending end of the prosecution panel’s turn in presenting evidence against some suspects whose cases are in the trial stage.

However, it does not cover members of the Ampatuan clan, who have pending bail petitions.

The defense panel is expected to start presenting their witnesses after the court rules on the prosecution panel’s formal offer of evidence-in-chief, which is expected to be filed following Manabat’s manifestation.

In a two-page order released yesterday, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes gave the prosecution panel until Feb. 12 to file the appropriate manifestation or pleading on the matter.

The written manifestation is expected to identify the suspects, mostly members of the Ampatuan clan’s alleged private army, who are covered by the prosecution panel’s decision to rest their case in relation to trial proceedings.

Manabat specified in his oral manifestation that the prosecution panel would not include those who have pending petitions, such as those asking to be allowed to post bail, before the Quezon City and appellate courts.

More than 60 of the 107 arrested suspects – including primary suspects former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan – have pending petitions for bail.

Also expected to be excluded in the resting of the case are suspects that the panel seeks to convert into state witnesses, including accused Esmael Canapia and Rex Ariel Diongon.

The prosecution panel has submitted its formal evidence in opposition to the bail petitions, but Reyes said last month that she could not rule on this until she resolves the motions for discharge of Canapia and Diongon.

“Considering that among the documents being formally offered by the prosecution are the sworn statements of said accused, the Court finds that there is a need to rule first on the said motion before it resolves the offer of exhibits in the 58 cases,” Reyes noted in an order dated Jan. 6.

The motions for discharge of the two suspects have been submitted for resolution. It is not clear, however, when the judge will resolve these motions.

Once the court rules on the formal offer of exhibits against the bail petitions, the defense panel will have their chance to present evidence supporting the suspects’ request for temporary freedom.

Far from over

While the recent development is a major step forward in the four-year trial, it marks only the end of half of the trial for less than half of the arrested suspects.

For the rest, including the primary suspects, the proceedings have yet to reach trial stage due to their bail petitions.

One arrested suspect, Talembo Masukat, is still not arraigned due to his pending petition before the Supreme Court.

In an earlier interview, Reyes said she hopes that the defense panel would be able to start presenting their witnesses on the bail pleadings in the first half of this year.

Lawyer Sigfried Fortun, counsel for the Ampatuan suspects, earlier said that they would utilize the judicial affidavit rule in their turn to present witnesses.

He asked the court to subpoena several potential witnesses, such as Philippine National Police crime laboratory director Chief Superintendent Liza Fabong and Bureau of Immigration chief Siegfred Mison.

The court can only rule on the bail petition after the defense panel submits its formal offer of exhibits. The trial proper for the more than 60 suspects will only start after the ruling on the bail petitions.

During trial proper, the prosecution and the defense panels will have the opportunity to present additional witnesses and evidence. They are also expected to adopt those that are already presented during the bail hearings.

Long wait for justice

Reyes earlier said she hopes to hand down the verdict on the arrested accused before the end of President Aquino’s term in June 2016.

“The prosecution will soon terminate its presentation of evidence,” she said in an interview before the fourth anniversary of the massacre last year. “I think we’re almost halfway because the prosecution is almost done in its presentation of evidence.”

Private prosecutor Harry Roque, however, disputed the proclamation of the judge. He said the trial for all the accused, including those who have yet to be arrested, may take another 16 years before the court can hand down the verdict.

“The problem is that (she was referring only) to those who are detained. What about those who have yet to be arrested? Why say 50 percent when the process for almost half of the accused has not even started?” Roque said.

“If we accept that the case is almost 50 percent over, it would mean that we will forget about those who are still at large,” he added.

Fifty-eight people, including 32 media practitioners, died in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre.

The massacre happened in Maguindanao town, where a convoy led by the wife of then Buluan vice mayor and now Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu was stopped and brutally murdered by more than hundred men.

The victims were on their way to file the certificate of candidacy of Mangudadatu, who was set to challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan for the Maguindanao gubernatorial post.

A total of 197 people were initially charged for the incident, but only 107 suspects have been arrested by authorities.

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