Maguindanao massacre trial ends

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
Maguindanao massacre trial ends
The 58 counts of murder against over the 100 accused have been submitted for decision, Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes said in a one-page order dated Aug. 22 and released to the media on Friday.
Edd Gumban / File

MANILA, Philippines — Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo met with members of the Ampatuan family just as the court handling the multiple murder case wraps up the decade-long trial.

Days after Panelo met with two members of the family on Aug. 13, the Quezon City judge handling the Maguindanao massacre case issued an order formally ending the trial for the multiple murder cases filed in connection with the Nov. 23, 2009 bloodshed.

The 58 counts of murder against over the 100 accused have been submitted for decision, Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes said in a one-page order dated Aug. 22 and released to the media on Friday.

Reyes denied the request of primary suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr. that he be given at least three months to find the services of a new lawyer, following the withdrawal of the firm of his last lead counsel, Raymond Fortun.

The judge noted that Ampatuan rejected the services of Amando Cura of the Public Attorney’s Office, who was appointed by the court as his counsel de officio following the withdrawal of Fortun.

Reyes submitted the case for decision even without the memorandum from the suspect’s camp, which failed to submit it in time for the earlier deadline set by the court on Aug. 13.

Coincidentally, Panelo met Jehan-Jehan Ampatuan Lepail and Bai Soraida Biruar-Ampatuan at his office on the same day.

Soraida is the mother of Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr., one of the suspects who is still at-large. Jehan-Jehan is Saudi’s wife.

Panelo was a former counsel of Andal Jr. and his father, the late clan patriarch Andal Sr., who died while in detention in 2015.

The presidential spokesman shrugged off the meeting, saying there was nothing wrong with the Ampatuans seeking Duterte’s assistance because “everybody seeks help.”

“They were asking for advice on what they should do. I said you should surrender your husband,” he said.

Nearing judgment

The submission of the case for decision marks the end of the years-long trial that began in January 2010.

Earlier, Reyes questioned the timing of Fortun’s withdrawal, noting that it was filed days before the deadline for the filing of the memoranda of the parties, the last document that would be submitted before the promulgation of the decision.

The judge also noted that the withdrawal was filed after the defense was given “several settings for the presentation of sub-rebuttal evidence and filing of motions one after the other that resulted in the unnecessary delay in the proceedings.”

“Accused’s prayer that he be given at least three months within which to look for a counsel of his choice is hereby denied for lack of merit,” read the order. “He is, instead, directed to immediately secure the services of a counsel.”

The Nov. 23, 2009 massacre, dubbed as the single deadliest incident for media workers in world history, claimed the lives of 58 people, including 32 media practitioners.

The victims joined the convoy led by Genalyn Mangudadatu, wife of then-Buluan vice mayor and now Maguindanao Rep. Esmael Mangudadatu.

Genalyn was supposed to file the certificate of candidacy of her husband at the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak when they were stopped and brutally murdered by more than one hundred men.

Also dead were Mangudadatu’s female sisters, lawyers, aides and private citizens who were mistaken to be part of the convoy.

Charged with multiple murder are prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, including Andal Jr., who Mangudadatu was supposed to challenge for the gubernatorial post in 2010.

Dozens of suspects were surnamed Ampatuan, while the rest were either members of the Philippine National Police or the supposed private army of the political clan.

Out of the initial 197 suspects charged for the massacre, 117 have been arrested. Four have died in detention, including Ampatuan clan patriarch and former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Charges against nine others were dropped, including the three who were allowed to become state witnesses. Eleven are out on bail, while 80 of the suspects – including Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr. – remain at-large.

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