Justice vowed in Maguindanao massacre
Delon Porcalla, Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - November 24, 2014 - 12:00am

AMPATUAN, Maguindanao, Philippines – Officials vowed yesterday to deliver justice as the country marked the fifth anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre that killed 58, with no one yet convicted and several would-be witnesses murdered.

Under a burning sun, hundreds of relatives and supporters of the victims, guarded by scores of military men, congregated on a hillside in the town of Ampatuan where the bodies were dumped on Nov. 23, 2009.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima joined relatives of victims as they released white balloons, lit candles and said prayers as they echoed calls to convict members and followers of the powerful Ampatuan political clan, some of whom are now on trial for the massacre.

De Lima described the killings in Maguindanao
province – the country’s worst-ever political massacre – as “a litmus test of the Philippine justice system.”

The 58 victims, including 32 journalists, were riding in a convoy in the strife-torn province when they were stopped, rounded up, shot dead and buried on the hillside.

The convoy was on its way to file the election candidacy of a local rival of the Ampatuan clan when it was allegedly waylaid by the family’s private militia led by Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of local strongman Andal Sr.

At the ceremonies in Ampatuan, De Lima joined relatives of the dead in calling for speedier proceedings.

Families of those who died spoke of how they were losing their faith in the system as others wept.

De Lima conceded there were obstacles, such as 300 witnesses who were due to testify for the defence but she insisted the prosecution’s case was still

stronger.

She also acknowledged the killings of witnesses and potential witnesses.

But de Lima said she would keep helping potential witnesses, adding “we will continue our fight for rights and justice.”

“Justice is slow but it still moves,” she told the relatives.

 

‘Unfinished work of achieving justice’

 

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said President Aquino “is filled with determination that his administration will complete the unfinished work of achieving justice.”

The President had challenged the Department of Justice to convict “at least the principal accused” before he steps down in 2016, Coloma said.

“The nation can depend on the government to uphold the protection of freedom of expression and vigorous journalism, an important foundation of a significant democracy,” he said in Filipino.

“The campaign against criminality continues,” he said. “It involves the arrest, prosecution and conviction of all groups and individuals using force to cover up the truth.”

Coloma said the administration is one with the victims’ families in seeking and achieving justice at the soonest possible time. The government is determined to prosecute all the accused in the case and go after all those at large, he added.

 

‘SC has done its part’

 

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno said yesterday the Supreme Court (SC) has done its part to help expedite resolution of the Maguindanao massacre case.

Speaking at a forum on the issue of impunity in Quezon City, Sereno said reforms on the trial of the multiple murder case before Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 have contributed to this objective.

“It is one of the judiciary’s burdens that we are not in a position to make things move as quickly as we would want because the judicial process involves the prosecution, both public and private, and the defense; and in every instance, (there is) the fundamental rights of the accused as well as the correlative rights of the State,” she said.

Sereno said the SC has issued a new set of guidelines to speed up the Maguindanao massacre case and only for this particular case.

“You may appreciate that this is extraordinary because the Supreme Court has never issued such an expansive set of guidelines designed only for one case,” she said.

Sereno said these guidelines have speeded up the resolution of many incidents in allowing the trial judge some flexibility in addressing questions at her level without fear of being overruled by a higher court.

The hearing has proceeded nonstop since Jan. 5, 2010 with two days a week devoted to evidentiary hearings and one day a week for hearing motions, she added.

Sereno said Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has been relieved of all other duties and responsibilities and was given two assisting judges to absorb all the other pending cases in her court, and a third one to help her with all pending incidents and motions.

With these measures, 111 of the accused have been arraigned and bail petitions of 42 of them have been resolved, she added.

Sereno said 166 witnesses have testified in court.

“The transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 70 volumes,” she said.

“The records, apart from the transcripts, are 77 volumes thick and counting. Of the 437 incidents that needed to be ruled on, 400 have been disposed of and only 37 remain, most of them in relation to the petitions for bail. The present panel of prosecutors is already the third constituted panel. In addition are 18 private prosecutors and 15 defense lawyers/firms. Some of the lawyers have already withdrawn their representation. These data explain in part the long trial.”

Sereno said she has been regularly updated on what is going on in the trial.

“I keep track of what still needs to be done on the part of the Supreme Court or the Office of the Court Administrator in order that the goal of speedy trial may be met, while ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected,” she said.

“I have also more than once personally assured the judge in charge of the cases that the guidelines that the Supreme Court had issued, especially the last one issued in December 2013, are meant to fully empower her to resolve the cases as expeditiously as possible without sacrificing the quality of the decision she will render, while at all times ensuring that the accused are afforded due process.”

 

AMPATUAN ANDAL AMPATUAN JR. ANDAL SR. CASE CHIEF JUSTICE MA COURT DE LIMA JUSTICE MAGUINDANAO SUPREME COURT
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