Only 3 major matters on Maguindanao massacre trial left for resolution

MANILA — Only three major matters have yet to be resolved in relation to the Maguindanao massacre case trial, the Supreme Court (SC) said Wednesday.

In its latest update, the SC Public Information Office (PIO) said these are the resolution of the remaining formal offer of evidence (FOE) of the evidence-in-chief, demurrers to evidence, and the termination of the presentation of defense evidence in connection with the murder charges filed against 103 accused, which are now on trial before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC RTC) Branch 221.

“As soon as the accused have rested their presentation of evidence, their respective cases may already be submitted for the decision of the Court,” the high court said.

Under the guidelines issued by the SC specifically applying to these cases only, the court may render judgment separately and not wait for all the accused to conclude presenting their evidence.

The murder cases, which account for 58 victims (out of the 58 victims, 32 were media practitioners), originally involved 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuans), with 115 already arrested (the latest being Jonathan Engid who was arrested last Feb. 28).

Four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan Sr., died while in detention while four of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221. Hence, from those arraigned, only 103 accused remain on trial.

The proceedings are being actively attended by 10 lawyers that comprise the third Panel of Public Prosecutors, eight private prosecutors, and 23 defense lawyers/firms. The transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 59 volumes, while the records of the cases are 129 volumes thick, plus 10 volumes of prosecution’s evidence.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 21, the QC RTC has already heard a total of 273 witnesses: 166 prosecution witnesses, and 107 defense witnesses. The Court has resolved all the 15 sets of FOE in connection with the bail applications of 70 accused. It has likewise resolved all bail applications of the accused, including that of accused Andal
“Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., which was denied last May 31.

According to the SC, eight batches of FOEs have already been filed in the QC RTC. Seven of these FOEs have been resolved by the Court on the following dates: June 15, 2016 (1st FOE), Nov. 14, 2016 (2nd FOE), Dec. 12, 2016 (3rd FOE), Feb. 9, 2017 (4th FOE), and Sept. 18, 2017 (5th, 6th, and 7th FOEs).

It is already the turn of the accused to present their evidence-in-chief, where 31 accused have already concluded the presentation of their evidence while 34 more accused are currently presenting their respective defense evidence-in-chief.

The SC said the motion for reconsideration filed by Unsay was already denied by the Court in its order dated last June 16.

“The prosecution has already finished the presentation of evidence in the main cases against all of the accused, save for Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr.

Considering that the bail proceedings against him was already terminated, the Court is now awaiting for the Manifestation to be filed by the prosecution with respect to their Formal Offer of Evidence insofar as accused Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. is concerned,” it added.

Earlier, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has expressed his commitment to speed up the “wheels of justice” for the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

“We will do all that we can to make the wheels of justice turn faster, not only in this case but in other cases,” Aguirre said.

The justice chief even assured that the principal accused would be convicted “in the next few years”.

“(We) are doing (our) best to speed up the proceedings and make sure former mayor Andal ‘Datu Unsay’ Ampatuan Jr. and his brother, former governor Zaldy Ampatuan, are convicted,” Aguirre said.

QC RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, who has been hearing the multiple murder case since Jan. 2010, is among the aspirants for upcoming vacancies in the Court of Appeals (CA) and Sandiganbayan.

She has accepted nomination for the vacancies following the retirement of CA Associate Justice Agnes Carpio and Associate Justice Jose Hernandez in Sandiganbayan.

To expedite trial, the SC ordered Judge Solis-Reyes to focus solely on this case, while three assisting judges have been assigned to handle minor motions and other pending cases in her court.

“Special trial guidelines have been issued to fast track reception of evidence and to allow her to issue partial judgments, all of this so that the trial can be expedited. Hearings are continuous and thrice-weekly,” she said.

On Nov. 23, 2009, 58 people were killed in the worst election-related violence in the country that was allegedly masterminded by the Ampatuan clan to thwart the candidacy of Esmael Mangudadatu in the 2010 elections.