Kin of victims bewail slow Maguindanao massacre trial

“Ordinary people like me do not understand why our judicial system is like this. Can it be reformed? It is difficult to accept it would take 20 years or 200 years for the case to be resolved.”


MANILA — Grace Morales, 35, lost a husband and a sister in a massacre that took place on November 23, 2009 and claimed the lives of 58 individuals, 32 of whom are journalists.

Her husband Rosell of News Focus left her with three children, now aged 13, eleven and eight. Her sister Marites Cablitas left behind three children. “At that time, I did not know what to do. Two of my loved ones were killed. Who should I console first, my mother-in-law, my own children or my nieces and my nephew,” Morales told the fellows of the Graciano Lopez Jaena Workshop at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

Morales, along with the other families of slain journalists, filed cases against the suspects, members of the powerful and influential Ampatuan clan who have been reigning in Maguindanao province. Barely a month before the massacre marks its second year, the trial has still been grinding slowly.

Almost two years after the Ampatuan massacre, the trial is locked up in bail proceedings, with 48 suspects filing petitions for bail, said lawyer Prima Quinsayas of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ). Of the 196 suspects in the carnage of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists, only two have been arraigned so far.

“Even under Aquino’s administration, we are not moving,” Quinsayas said. “So much for Aquino’s promises…”

Recently, the court granted the motion filed by lawyers of Datu Unsay and Maguindanao mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. to present rebuttal evidence to the opposition filed by the prosecution against Unsay’s petition for bail.

“This is unusual. The general rule is that it is only the prosecution that presents evidence during bail proceedings because it has to prove the strong probability of guilt to oppose the petition,” Quinsayas said. The defense, said Quinsayas, cited only one Supreme Court decision to justify its petition. Quinsayas argued that the particular jurisprudence being cited by the defense is not applicable to the circumstances of the Ampatuan case.

In the same forum, Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III described the recent developments in the case as “disturbing.” He said that under the rules of court, petitions for bail should be summary and the defense can file petitions for bail if the evidence of guilt is weak.

“We are confident that it will be denied. The evidence against Andal is very strong. In a surprising turn of events, the court granted the right [of the accused] to submit rebuttal evidence,” Baraan said. “That will delay the resolution of the case.”

“Can you imagine the court allowing all the 40 plus [suspects] to present rebuttal evidence?” Quinsayas said. “Unfortunately, we have to work with the rules of court. The Supreme Court is not very open to the idea of revising the rules of court,” Quinsayas said.

Editha Tiamzon, widow of UNTV driver Daniel Tiamzon, one of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre, said, “We find the trial very slow. Even if hearings are held twice a week, it is as though nothing is happening. We are not satisfied. Two years has passed and still, we see no light.”

Quinsayas said the prosecution is “deluged with motions from the lawyers of the respondents, many of which are dilatory.”

Andal Jr. filed several petitions for certiorari to prevent witnesses from testifying in court.

Melanie Pinlac, alerts officer of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), said the prosecution has been blocking the testimony of Kenny Dalandag, also a suspect in the case. Dalandag claims to be a member of the Ampatuan clan’s private army that participated in the massacre.?
Quinsayas also said the prosecution is preventing damaging testimonies by delaying its conclusion. The FFFJ lawyer explained that until a witness is cross-examined during his/her testimony, his/her testimony is not yet concluded in court.

Quinsayas said the prosecution would not cross-examine the witnesses. “If that witness is killed, his testimony would be useless.”

One witness, “Jesse” or Suwaib Upham, and two relatives of witnesses to the Maguindanao massacre have already been murdered.

Lawyer Manuel Diokno, president of the Free Legal Action Group (Flag) and dean of the College of Law of De La Salle Univesity (DLSU), said, “The DOJ has a very weak Witness Protection Program (WPP). Witnesses take five years, ten years, to testify. In the meantime, their lives are in danger. Their enemies, the police and the military, are out there.”

Diokno said there should be a mechanism to perpetuate the testimonies of witnesses.

Diokno also pointed out that police rely heavily on witnesses who are “very easy to influence and compromise.” He said the use of physical and forensic evidence is totally neglected.

Quinsayas also complained about the unwillingness of law enforcement agencies to pursue the investigation. The requests for inventory of all firearms seized by the Philippine National Police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines from the Ampatuan mansions remain unheeded. Of the more than 2,000 firearms seized, only 200 have so far been surrendered to the crime laboratory.

Quinsayas also said no further evidence to prove conspiracy has been submitted by the PNP after case was filed with the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Morales said the defense is obviously doing its best to delay the proceedings. “Until now, not all of the suspects have been arraigned. We were told it would take a minimum of two years. I don’t know why these are allowed. Ordinary people like me do not understand why our judicial system is like this. Can it be reformed? It is difficult to accept it would take 20 years or 200 years for the case to be resolved.”

Both Tiamzon and Morales confirmed that some families are being offered money, at the rate of P25 million ($581 thousand), to retract from the case.

“Does life have a price? One of the relatives said to me ‘I think I would give in. I don’t know where to get money to spend for daily expenses.’ I told her, ‘Do you want to watch the video again so that you can decide?’ I want to remind them of the pain although I know it is not right. So that they can decide whether to accept the money or not,” Morales said.

“It is painful to accept that in this country, it is so easy to kill,” Morales said.

“If we would accept it, it would mean that the lives of our loved ones can be bought. I told her that if you receive the money, what about the principles your husband fought for?” Tiamzon said.

The snail-paced trial goes on. Meanwhile, Morales and Tiamzon and their children struggle hard to live normal lives. (

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