6 years after Maguindanao massacre: Trial updates

MANILA, Philippines – Six years after the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, the trial for the worst election-related violence in Philippine history continues to drag on.

As of November 2015, not one of the 197 accused has been convicted for the killing of 58 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Three of them – including the alleged mastermind of the massacre, Andal Ampatuan Sr – have already died. Meanwhile, 111 of the accused have been arrested and arraigned. (READ: 6 updates on Maguindanao Massacre's 6th year)

The Maguindanao massacre is considered the single deadliest attack against media. Thirty-two journalists were among those killed when the convoy of Esmael Mangudadatu, then running for governor against Andal Ampatuan Jr, was attacked in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. (INFOGRAPHIC: Maguindanao massacre case, 5 years on)

Ongoing trial

Six years after the incident, proceedings at the Quezon City regional trial court handling the case have reached the hearing of the evidence-in-chief. The prosecution has rested its case against 95 of the accused after filing 3 batches of formal offers of evidence against them. 

In a press update, the Supreme Court said the defense may either present its evidence or submit a demurrer to evidence, after which the murder cases will be submitted for the decision of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221.

A demurrer is a response in a court proceeding where a defendant does not dispute the truth of the allegations but claims that these are insufficient to justify legal action.

According to the High Tribunal, the Quezon City RTC has already heard a total of 178 witnesses: 93 from the prosecution, 27 from the defense, and 58 private complainants. 

The trial court has also resolved bail applications of the major accused in the case, except for Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. and two other minor bail applications.

Unsay Ampatuan Jr has also been ordered to close his presentation of evidence by December.

In December 2013, the Supreme Court issued guidelines in the conduct of the trial to expedite proceedings, including the designation of a third assisting judge to handle "non-trial incidents" such as arraignments and pre-trials.

Up to the trial court 

As relatives of the victims continue to mourn 6 years after the bloody massacre, Malacañang said it has done what it can "within its powers" to bring justice to the victims. 

But Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda pointed out that the pace of the trial depends on Quezon City RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

"Make no mistake, we are very concerned also. We would certainly like to have the trial of the Ampatuan case hastened as well and, in fact, we do want to see a decision before the President leaves office. But is it something within our control? That is not within our control. And I think we’re just stating what is the reality on the ground," Lacierda said. 

He added that while Malacañang also wants the case expedited, they cannot go beyond "certain limitations" to avoid being accused of interference.

"At the end of the day, it is with Judge Solis-Reyes and how she conducts a trial that makes a difference on the pacing of the Ampatuan case," he said. – Rappler.com