Early outcome eyed for massacre case

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President Rodrigo Duterte will meet with state prosecutors to find ways to speed up the resolution of the nine-year Maguindanao massacre possibly within the year.

The 2009 tragedy involved the killing of 58 people, including 32 print and broadcast journalists, allegedly on orders of the influential Ampatuan clan.

The Ampatuan clan was accused of masterminding the killings to derail the political plans of rival Esmael Mangudadatu who is now incumbent governor of Maguindanao.

Amid reports that witnesses are being coerced to recant their testimonies against the primary suspects in the Maguindanao massacre, Malacañang yesterday stressed that President Rodrigo Duterte wanted nothing less than for justice to be served for the victims and their families.

Out of the 197 accused, 103 are currently undergoing trial.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr., who once served as the lawyer for some of the victims’ families, said yesterday that he is exerting efforts to have Mr. Duterte and the prosecution panel to meet and discuss the case.

Mr. Duterte had instructed government prosecutors to do their best to obtain partial judgment against some of the accused within the year.

Out of the 197 accused, 103 are currently undergoing trial for multiple murders, including prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr.

Facing the same charges are Zaldy Ampatuan and another of their sibling, Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan though the latter was allowed to post bail by the court in January 2015.

Murder cases were filed against 197 accused with 115 already arrested.

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

Delicadeza issue

“Obviously, I have a sort of a delicadeza issue here. But nonetheless, because this is a public interest case, I’d like to inform the public that I’m arranging a meeting with the panel of prosecutors in the Palace again. And again, I would like to invite the President to join us in our meeting to have him apprised by the prosecution team on what’s happening,” Roque said.

The former human rights lawyer also confirmed some witnesses who testified against Andal Jr., have indeed, recanted.

“Some witnesses against Andal Junior have retracted their testimonies but I have been assured by the panel of prosecutors that so far despite the retraction, the case against Unsay (Ampatuan) remains strong,” Roque said.

Just last month, Zaldy Ampatuan was given temporary freedom to attend the wedding of his daughter at a five-star hotel in Manila.

The charges against the Ampatuans are still pending before the sala of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

Family patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. passed away in 2015 due to complications from liver cancer.

Defense to show evidence

With the normal pace of the court proceedings, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said a decision on the case is expected by early next year.

“There are four or five accused who will still present the defense panel’s evidence before the court. It will be submitted for decision by early next year,” Guevarra said.

The Maguindanao massacre incident is described as the worst violent election-related case in the country.

Some 16 policemen of the 1508th Provincial Mobile Group, who were implicated in the case, were also granted bail by the RTC and affirmed by the CA in the same year.

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