DOJ scouting for 'experienced' fiscals for massacre trial
- Edu Punay () - March 29, 2011 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) is scouting for public prosecutors to join its panel handling the Maguindanao massacre trial.

An insider told The STAR that Secretary Leila de Lima called Quezon City Prosecutor Donald Lee last Thursday and instructed him to look for “experienced” Quezon City prosecutors to join the panel to remedy what was described as the “inexperience” of the new prosecutors recently assigned to the case.

Lee then gave the offer to three Quezon City prosecutors – Perfecto Lawrence Chua-Cheng, Manuel Felipe and Bong Baylon – but all three had declined last Friday “in support of the original panel.”

“They also don’t want to work with (private lawyer) Nena (Santos),” according to the source, who added that Lee was also a classmate of De Lima and Santos at the San Beda College of Law.

De Lima apparently opted to look for public prosecutors from Quezon City instead of the DOJ.

De Lima earlier accused former panel members led by Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon of lack of zeal and enthusiasm in prosecuting the case to justify their removal from the team, purportedly upon Santos’ request.

“There’s already a member of the panel from the city prosecutor’s office, so why add new members from Quezon City? Do they find the new members from DOJ lacking in experience?” asked the source.

Santos admitted that she requested more members for the prosecution panel “due to the number of witnesses and accused once the others will be arraigned so that the trial will not be protracted and witnesses’ presentation will not be fragmented.”

She said they are not seeking additional members to remedy the new panel members’ alleged inexperience, saying they are “more experienced than the old ones.”

Santos said the DOJ secretary has the sole decision on where to source the new members of the panel, adding that she never called Lee on this matter.

‘Second-class’ victims

De Lima and Santos have denied that the private lawyer has been dominating the prosecution of the case, but lawyer Harry Roque Jr., who represents the relatives of journalists killed in the carnage, sided with the fiscals removed from the panel and bared how Santos allegedly dictates the pace of the prosecution.

He cited Santos’ insistence to schedule testimonies of 57 witnesses – all for Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost a wife and several relatives in the massacre – to prove the Ampatuan clans’ civil liability in court. Roque said this move would supposedly exclude the witnesses of other complainants.

“We finally agreed that the families of the journalist-victims will take the witness stand... (Santos) seems to treat the slain journalists as second-class victims. We won’t let that happen,” he said.

Citing his own rift with Santos, Assistant State Prosecutor Alex Suarez has resigned from the panel.

Roque viewed this development as disturbing since the new panel members are not yet familiar with the case.

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