“Our criminal justice system will be measured by how we fared [in this case], and if we don’t get the conviction of those guilty simply because of the mis-appreciation of the facts of the case, perhaps mismanagement of the prosecution of the case, or underestimating the defense, we have to answer not only to the families of the 58 massacre victims but to the Filipino people.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Three private prosecutors in the Ampatuan massacre case were aghast at the move of the public prosecutors to rest the case.
On Feb. 28, the public prosecutors manifested in court their intention to rest their case in both the bail petitions and the evidence-in-chief for 28 of the accused. They said they were disinclined to present additional evidence against 28 of the accused. On April 3, the public prosecutors reiterated their manifestation in court.
Private prosecutors Prima Quinsayas, lawyer for the families of the 17 victims; Nena Santos, lawyer for the families of 25 victims; and Maria Gemma Oquendo, whose father Catalino Oquendo and sister, Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon were killed in the massacre, said they could not understand the government panel’s move.
“We have to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt and this [resting the case] closes our door to getting a conviction,” Quinsayas said in a press conference, July 31.
In a hearing on March 12, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, the judge presiding over the trial, described the public prosecutors’ move as “un-procedural”. She suggested that the prosecution rest only in the presentation of evidence in opposition to bail, and in evidence-in-chief only for those accused who have not petitioned for bail.
Quinsayas, legal counsel of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), said there is much to lose without waiting for the rebuttal of evidence for bail.
Seventy bail petitions have been filed for the accused including for the alleged masterminds Zaldy Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Andal Ampatuan Sr. Bail hearings have not yet finished and as of March 20, some of the accused manifested that they would present rebuttal of evidence in support of their bail petitions.
Quinsayas said resting the case in the bail petition and in evidence-in-chief would mean that they could no longer present additional evidence against the 28 accused.
Quinsayas added that if the prosecution rests the case against some of the accused, the testimonies of witnesses against the other accused could no longer be used against the 28. “This is crucial because we are alleging conspiracy,” she said.
Santos said there are many other witnesses who should be presented and the private prosecutors are waiting for the evidence of the defense.
Santos said three testimonies, including the one from an eyewitness against Andal Jr., are pending before the Court of Appeals. “What if the court’s decision is favorable to us? Their testimonies are important in getting a conviction,” Santos said.
In its manifestation, the government panel said no more witnesses would be presented.
Quinsayas said she reacted violently upon reading this, “No more witnesses? They just refused to go to Mindanao to meet with and present the witnesses,” she said.
Quinsayas said that the public prosecutors’ plan to go to Mindanao sometime in January 2013 did not happen. She said the government panel justified the cancellation of the trip by citing “security risks.”
Quinsayas quoted the reaction of Oquendo, the other private prosecutor, on the cancellation of the trip to Mindanao, “The DOJ is not a simple office. It is the Department of Justice. It can mobilize the PNP [Philippine National Police] and NBI [National Bureau of Investigation].”
Santos said the government panel had enough time to talk to the witnesses. She said that as early as September 2010, witnesses have been identified. “They just waited for us to bring to them the witnesses,” Santos said.
Quinsayas said that in a Feb. 6, 2013 meeting with the DOJ, she volunteered to look for the witnesses and asked for a security escort. She said the DOJ agreed but it never happened.
In a statement, Oquendo lamented that the private prosecutors were not at all consulted and were only informed of the decision.
Both Quinsayas and Santos said that since February 2013, they have no longer been included in the decision-making.
Santos said this has been the case after Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III met with one of the defense lawyers Philip Sigfrid Fortun. She said Baraan did not tell them at once about the said meeting and when she confronted him about it, Santos said, Baraan replied that it was about a petition for review for another case.
Santos said Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife and sister were killed in the massacre, wrote to President Benigno Aquino III sometime in March or April 2013 expressing concern over the rift between the public prosecutors and the private prosecutors. He never got a reply.
Santos wrote to Justice Sec. Leila De Lima March 5 to reconsider the government panel’s move to rest the case. She said De Lima has not replied to her letter.
The public prosecutors have ordered the private prosecutors to submit all the requirements for the resting of the case by July 31.
Quinsayas recalled that the President vowed to get a conviction on the Ampatuan massacre before he steps down in 2016.
“Our criminal justice system will be measured by how we fared [in this case], and if we don’t get the conviction of those guilty simply because of the mis-appreciation of the facts of the case, perhaps mismanagement of the prosecution of the case, or underestimating the defense, we have to answer not only to the families of the 58 massacre victims but to the Filipino people,” Quinsayas said.