6 years later, still no justice in Maguindanao massacre
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - November 22, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Justice remains elusive for the victims in the Maguindanao massacre as the country commemorates today the gruesome murder of 58 people, including 32 media practitioners, six years ago.

More than 150 witnesses and thousands of pages of documentary evidence were presented, but the special court handling the case – while making substantial progress in the past year – has yet to issue a single verdict against any of the accused charged with 58 counts of murder.

The bail plea of primary accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. is pending before Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

Malacañang is hopeful that the judiciary will find ways to speed up the process as presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda has noted the pace of the case.

“We continue to be outraged by the whole incident and we remember the people who unfortunately died in that tragic massacre,” he said, adding that the Palace has been asking the judicial branch for a way to speed up resolution of the cases.

But for Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife Genalyn and two sisters, along with a number of female lawyers and staff in the Nov. 23, 2009 incident, “justice is still an elusive dream.”

Genalyn was supposed to file the governor’s certificate of candidacy in the provincial capital of Shariff Aguak when their convoy, which included media groups, was stopped by more than a hundred men in Ampatuan town. All were shot and buried. Others were raped before they were killed. The body of reporter Reynaldo Momay was never found.

Mangudadatu, then the vice mayor of Buluan town, was supposed to challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan – then the most powerful political family in the region – for the gubernatorial post.

Prosecution witnesses claim that Andal Jr. himself led the attack, an allegation he personally denied when he took the witness stand last month to testify on his whereabouts during the incident.

Other prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, including now deceased Andal Sr., were tagged as masterminds of the crime. They have denied the allegations.

Time ticking for Noy admin

When he was elected in 2010, President Aquino himself pledged that convictions would be issued against the suspects in the massacre before he steps down from office next year.

Former justice secretary Leila de Lima said in October that she remained confident that a verdict would be issued against Andal Jr. and his brother, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan. She personally supervised the prosecution panel before resigning last month to run for the Senate .

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno also said that the Supreme Court has done its part in helping expedite proceedings as it issued a resolution allowing Judge Solis-Reyes to separately promulgate judgment on the accused, known as the “first in, first out” method. It also appointed an assisting judge to handle motions that do not tackle the merits of the case.

Private lawyer Harry Roque, who represents some of the media victims, expressed confidence that the court could issue a ruling against Andal Jr. and Zaldy.

“The past six years without a conviction is a clear breach of the state obligation to accord the victims an adequate domestic remedy. Nonetheless, I am confident that because of our initiative, the first in first out, we could have a promulgation against two Ampatuan brothers before PNoy leaves,” said the lawyer, who is running for Congress under a party-list group.

But defense lawyer Salvador Panelo said the termination of the case may not be forthcoming as the accused still have to present evidence for their defense.

“That could probably last beyond Aquino’s term. What is important is the truth in the case comes out,” he added.

Members of the Central Mindanao media community are certain of a conviction though as they remain hopeful that the court would hand down a ruling soon.

Bail pleas

While no ruling has been issued, the court handling the multiple murder case has made significant progress in the past year. Based on court records, Judge Solis-Reyes has ruled on the bail petitions of 62 out of 69 suspects who filed such plea.

A total of 45 suspects, mostly police officers, have been allowed to post bail, while 17 suspects – including deceased Andal Sr. and his sons Anwar Sr. and Zaldy – have been denied of their motion for temporary freedom.

Despite the bail grant, only one suspect, Andal Sr.’s son Sajid Islam, was able to post the P11.6 million set by the court. He is now running for mayor of Shariff Aguak, a post previously held by his brother Anwar Sr. prior to the massacre.

In her rulings granting the bail pleas, the judge said the prosecution panel was not able to present convincing and strong evidence against the accused. Most of the orders are questioned before the Court of Appeals. Zaldy’s camp also expressed its intention to appeal the denial of bail for the former regional governor.

Panelo said the Ampatuan clan has been framed for the massacre, and presented witnesses claiming that Andal Jr. was not at the scene but instead at the municipal hall at the time of the incident.

He also reiterated that Andal Jr. was in the United States a few days prior to the massacre, making it impossible for him to attend the supposed meetings where the crime was planned.

“The accused are hounded by the reality that their witnesses are either killed, intimidated, bought or charged with fabricated crimes to make them mortally fearful to testify. Some of them died or are debilitated by illness. Others who are willing to testify are opposed by the prosecution panel because it doesn’t want the truth to come out about the Ampatuans being framed for a crime they have not committed,” Panelo added. With Alexis Romero

 

ACIRC AMPATUAN ANDAL ANDAL AMPATUAN JR. ANDAL JR. ANDAL JR. AND ZALDY ANDAL SR. ANWAR SR. COURT JUDGE SOLIS-REYES SHARIFF AGUAK
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