Relatives of a victim of the Maguindanao massacre light candles at a shrine in Barangay Masalay in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao yesterday, the 8th anniversary of the attack which killed 58 persons, including 32 media workers. John Unson

Government vows to resolve Maguindanao massacre in 4 years
(The Philippine Star) - November 23, 2017 - 4:00pm

MANILA, Philippines — After eight years and not a single conviction against the 197 suspects in the Maguindanao massacre that claimed the lives of 58 people including 32 media practitioners, the government said the case would be resolved in four years.

Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, a former journalist who took the helm of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, made the prediction after the Department of Justice (DOJ) gave assurance that the case is “moving.”

“The DOJ estimated that at the rate the trial is moving the case may be resolved – this is a conservative projection – well within four years or well within the term of President Duterte,” Egco pointed out, as he noted that his office would keep a close watch on the progress of the cases. 

“The good news is, after a long and tedious search for justice, we can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. That long period of uncertainty is finally over. Hoping against hope, we expect justice to be completely served for the victims and families of this most gruesome crime,” Egco added. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the trial might be completed in a year if the first-in first-out system would be adopted. Under the system, the court does not have to finish the reception of all evidence against all the accused before there could be promulgation of judgment.

“We suggested that the Supreme Court adopt the first-in first out (system). If it is adopted, there can be a decision against one or two of the accused within the year. Although there are 58 counts of murder, we only need one to put everyone behind bars. So for me, there is no need to wait for four years,” Roque said. 

Roque, a former lawyer of the Maguindanao massacre victims, said he would undertake steps to fast track the resolution of the cases. 

According to the Quezon City Regional Trial Court, the case will be submitted for decision once the defense wraps up the presentation of evidence.

A total of 22 suspects have terminated their presentation of evidence, 13 of which were submitted for decision. At least 106 of 188 accused are behind bars.

“In the immediate time, the proceedings only have the following major incidents to conclude: 1) the resolution of the remaining formal offers of evidence, motions for leave to file demurrer and demurrers to evidence, and 2) the conclusion of the presentation of defense evidence. After all of the parties have rested, by then, these murder cases will already be submitted for decision of the court,” the trial court said.

Also yesterday, one of the 197 massacre suspects died while in detention, succumbing to a heart problem.

Senior Police Officer 1 Eduardo Ong, a former member of the 1508th Maguindanao Provincial Mobile Group (PMG), died of heart failure around 6 a.m. at the Taguig Pateros District Hospital, a source confirmed to The STAR. He was 59.

Although the court had earlier allowed him to post bail, Ong remained in detention because he was not able to produce the P11.6 million (P200,000 for each of the 58 counts of murder) needed for his temporary freedom. The court also denied the plea of the PMG to lower the bail amount.

He is the third suspect to have died while in detention, after former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., an alleged mastermind, succumbed in July 2015 to liver cancer.

Noemi Parcon, wife of Joel Parcon, one of the media practitioners slain during the massacre, is optimistic that the families of victims would achieve justice within Duterte’s term. 

“It’s been eight years but it still hurts. Although we have moved on, the search for justice is still there. When President Duterte won, we became hopeful because his campaign against drugs would really help fasttrack the resolution of the cases,” Parcon said.

Commemoration

In Maguindanao, the relatives of the victims, along with local government, police and military officers, commemorated the 8th anniversary of the massacre at Sitio Salman, Barangay Masalay in Ampatuan town.

They urged the government to work for the arrest of the suspects who remain at-large, including Andal Sr.’s two grandsons.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife Genalyn, is optimistic that President Duterte will also focus on the arrest of the remaining suspects, adding that some of these men were reported to have already joined a bloc of the Islamic State-inspired terrorists.

Others who also lost their family members said they would want to achieve justice before Duterte’s term ends in 2022.

“It’s been eight years now and we still cannot see even just a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. President Duterte is powerful, the most powerful man in the country and we know he can help,” said 87-year-old Marino Ridao, who lost his son in the massacre.

He stressed that he wants to see a judicial closure to the case while he is still alive.

Mangudadatu, who led yesterday’s commemoration rites, said he wants justice for his wife and two sisters and all the other victims before his tenure as governor ends in 2019.

The 58 massacre victims were in a convoy to the capitol in Shariff Aguak town to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor for the May 2010 elections.

Members of the Ampatuan clan, backed by a private militia, allegedly flagged them down and herded them to a hilly area in Sitio Salman, where they were killed using machineguns and assault rifles. It was alleged that Andal Sr. did not want the candidacy of his son Andal Jr. challenged by anyone in the province.

To hide the crime, the perpetrators used a backhoe to bury the dead and their vehicles.

Pay reparations

A number of people who lost their relatives in the incident urged the government to pay reparations and strengthen its support to the panel that is prosecuting the cases.

The Center for International Law (Centerlaw), which represents some of the media victims in the massacre, said the government does not have to wait for judgment to pay reparations to the families of those killed.

“It is not contested that many of the perpetrators were government officers – many of them local government executives – not to mention uniformed officers and personnel. Under international law, the state must pay reparations for the human rights violations committed by its own agents,” read the statement.

This legal obligation, it added, is “distinct and separate from the individual criminal and civil liability of the offenders themselves” and is an important gesture to underscore the government’s commitment to put a stop to impunity.

Centerlaw also asked for continuing support for the prosecutors who are working to bring justice to the 58 victims. – Alexis Romero, Janvic Mateo, John Felix Unson, Artemio Dumlao

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