MIND DA NEWS: Barking at the Wrong Tree

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/11 July) – Two news reports, one in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (July 7, 2012) and the other in MindaNews (July 8, 2012), gave an update of the murder case pending at Regional Trial Court Branch 221 in Quezon City for almost three years now against erstwhile Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan and his two sons Andal Ampatuan Jr. (former mayor of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao) and Zaldy Ampatuan (former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao).


The case is for “extraordinary murder” – a well-planned massacre of 57 persons on November 23, 2009. This stemmed from lust for power fueling the political rivalry of two powerful clans. The promises of “special scoops” and sensational headlines led to the massacre of more than 30 journalists and other media workers among the 57.


The PDI article is from an interview with RTC 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes – the judge reacting from sarcastic criticisms about the pace of the trial, one saying it would take 55,000 years. The judge’s hope to hand down the verdict “before President Aquino ends his term” will not satisfy the critics – a no source of consolation for the victims’ kin.


The MindaNews report datelined Koronadal City is that of the blame hurled at President Benigno S. Aquino III by Party-list Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus. She said, “Every day that President Aquino’s administration delays the delivery of justice in relation to the Ampatuan massacre, he further cultivates and fosters the culture of impunity.


The long delay that is bound to get longer – no indictment in the first two years – cannot be blamed on the presiding judge or on the President but on the Philippine justice system and the most revered “Rule of Law”. The judge cannot go beyond the Penal or Criminal Code and the Rules of Court; the President cannot dictate on the judge once the case has been filed in court.


To a great extent, the Congress can be blamed for its evident blindness and indifference to the flaws in the laws on which our justice system is founded. Only the Congress can amend laws and enact more, as necessary – not the judge; not the President.


The Ampatuan (aptly, Masalay) massacre was not an ordinary murder. It was committed by 200 armed men, more or less, under one command following days of planning and surveillance. It was a most brazen extrajudicial killing – a war crime at peace time. Only Andal Ampatuan and his two sons were responsible. Had they been the only ones charged and tried the case would have been finished by now.


But the massacre was treated as an ordinary murder case. All the principals and accomplices have to be charged.  Guns used – all if possible – have to be accounted for and tested. Of the 196 charged with warrants issued, about 100 have remained at large. We have no figure regarding the number of guns so far recovered.  The number of witnesses must also be legions.


If this had been how Japanese General Yamashita and others were tried for war crimes after World War II, they could never have been convicted. That goes true for the military commanders now being tried for war crimes during the ethnic cleansing in Croatia. The Philippine Congress should pass special laws penalizing extrajudicial killing – brazen or subvert. Such killings have been going on for decades and members of the Congress could only join militants in blaming Presidents for inaction.


Under the present much-revered “Rules of Court” both the counsels for the prosecution and defense exploit technicalities and other legal loopholes to delay the trial in the name of their clients’ constitutional rights. And, if they are dissatisfied with the RTC Court’s ruling they question this at the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.


Judge Reyes stated this: The perceived delays are just the judicial process at work. Factors, such as pending appeals before higher courts, come into play in resolving pleadings; these have affected certain proceedings in her sala. The system – judicial process – hampers itself.


Under the Rules of Court, the Ampatuans and their hundreds of accomplices are charged with 57 counts of murder. Each of the victims is entitled to a private prosecutor if the kin choose to. This can translate to tedious and unwieldy prosecution – the judicial process tailored usually for one victim is applied to hundreds.


The Congress should pass special laws and the Court should formulate special rules for judicial killing. The Ampatuan massacre and the hundreds of judicial killings were done under command responsibility.  Prosecuting the brains or commanders responsible will satisfy justice and stop such heinous crime.


If there are such special laws and rules of court – better if there is a special court – the Ampatuan massacre could have already been decided. The kin of many victims of judicial killings could have savored justice.  Without these special laws and special courts, the hundreds of judicial killings will remain unsolved. The brains may be known but there are no laws criminalizing command responsibility.


If President Aquino is blamable for the slow pace in the trial of the Ampatuans as well as for the unsolved and unstopped judicial killings, it should be for his failure to let the Congress pass the necessarily pertinent law.  The failure is not his alone; it goes back to other Presidents after President Ferdinand E. Marcos and to the past Congresses. It is, too, on the present Congress.


As a postscript, we urge Rep. Emini de Jesus to spearhead the passage of a special law for the heinous crime of extrajudicial killing and creating a special court for it, lest the Congress be blamed for fostering and cultivating the culture of impunity.  (Patricio P. Diaz / MindaNews)