QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 23 Nov) — The Supreme Court has provided the judge handling the Ampatuan Massacre trial with “all possible legal resources to speed up the disposition of the case” while ensuring that the rights of the accused are protected, but Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno acknowledged that one of the judiciary’s burdens is that “we are not in a position to make things move as quickly as we would.”
“It is one of the judiciary’s burdens that we are not in a position to make things move as quickly as we would want because the judicial process involves the prosecution, both public and private, and the defense; and in every instance, the fundamental rights of the accused as well as the correlative rights of the State,” she said.
Five years after the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, not one of the nearly 200 accused has been convicted.
Sereno said the Supreme Court has provided presiding judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes “with all the possible legal resources to speed up the resolution of the case.”
In December last year, the Court, en banc, issued a new set of Guidelines for the case.
“You may appreciate that this is extraordinary because the Supreme Court has never issued such an expansive set of guidelines designed only for one case,” she said.
The Guidelines “have resulted in speeding up the resolution of many incidents; it has also allowed the trial judge some flexibility in addressing questions at her level without fear of being overruled by a higher-level court. “
Sereno also noted the non-stop hearings scheduled two to three times a week since January 5, 2010, which only took breaks during holidays.
She said Judge Reyes has been relieved of all other duties and responsibilities to focus on the case. She has also been given two assisting judges to absorb all the other pending cases in her sala and a third one to help her with all the pending incidents and motions in the cases, she added.
She cited figures that “explain in part the long trial” – 58 victims; 197 accused, less two who turned state witness and the information against one has been dismissed; 111 have been arraigned; 70 of the accused have filed petitions for bail; 42 of those have already been resolved; 166 witnesses have testified.
“The transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 70 volumes. The records, apart from the transcripts are 77 volumes thick and counting. Of the 437 incidents that needed to be ruled on, 400 have been disposed of and only 37 remain, most of them in relation to the petitions for bail. The present panel of prosecutors is already the third constituted panel. In addition are 18 private prosecutors and 15 defense lawyers/firms. Some of the lawyers have already withdrawn their representation. These data explain in part the long trial,” she said. (MindaNews)