Leonen challenge? Speed up Ampatuan trial

MANILA, Philippines – It’s not about the age.

For Sen Joker Arroyo, age should not be made an issue in the appointment of new Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen. Instead, he said Leonen must offer ideas to help speed up the trial of the Maguindanao massacre. 

“These newbies with no judicial experience, it will be good for them to give a fresh outlook. That’s what you should ask them,” Arroyo said in an interview on radio dzBB on Sunday, November 25.

Arroyo made the statement just two days after the 3rd anniversary of the massacre, which left 58 people dead, mostly women and journalists. It is known as the worst election-related violence in Philippine history.

For the senator, Leonen and another new appointee, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno must come up with proposals on how to fast-track what was dubbed “the trial of the century.”

“They should be asked what their ideas are because they are new in the Supreme Court, especially they have no judicial experience. They have never presided over any court so their ideas are fresh.”

“Maybe they can give impartial views on what to do,” said Arroyo.

President Benigno Aquino III appointed the former Government Peace Panel Chairman to the Supreme Court last Wednesday, November 21. The 49-year-old Leonen has 21 years in the High Court while Sereno, 52, has 18 years as chief magistrate before she reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The Ampatuan trial has dragged on, with only two members of the Ampatuan clan arraigned: prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr and his father, Andal Ampatuan Sr. 

The Supreme Court said last week that of the 196 accused, only 98 have been arrested and 81 arraigned. On Saturday, November 24, the operator of the backhoe that dug the victims’ graves was arrested.

‘Live coverage will delay trial’

Arroyo reiterated his prediction two years ago that the trial will take 200 years.

“You have 200 defendants. If that’s the case, you need 200 cross-examinations. Now, each defendant in a criminal case is entitled to cross-examine every witness of the prosecution, so it will really take long,” said Arroyo, a prominent human rights lawyer during Martial Law.

The senator though disagreed with prosecutors and Malacañang’s stand that live coverage of the trial will benefit the case. Early this month, the Supreme Court reversed its decision allowing live media coverage, citing the breach of rights of the accused.

“[Live coverage] will only delay the trial,” Arroyo said. “The Supreme Court must have thought that if here is live coverage, the trial will drag on because the participants, the lawyers of the prosecution, defense and the judge, will concentrate on two things: the case itself and how they will look on national TV.”

Focus on prime suspects

Instead, the senator suggested that the prosecution focus on the primary suspects in the case to speed up the trial.

“Go after the principal defendants so they will be jailed and sentenced. Every crime has a mastermind. Concentrate on the big ones, the principal [ones]. Because if you mix all, there will be delay.”

He added, “The principal thing is every time you have more defendants, the longer the delay.”

Arroyo also said the Supreme Court should order the judge to hold daily trials and to focus on the case alone.

The Supreme Court has already assigned the sala of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes as a special court handling no other case but the massacre.

The court holds hearings on the case on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

In its statement on November 22, the Supreme Court asked all parties to help speed up the trial.

“Considering the unique and unprecedented nature of these cases and the volume of the work still to be done, the speedy disposition of these cases depends on the cooperation of all the parties and actors involved." 

“Our judge has already exerted a tremendous amount of effort and work and knows it is her duty to continue doing so.” – Rappler.com