As I See It

How long will Maguindanao massacre trial last?


FIREWORKS FLEW at the Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel last Monday as two opposing lawyers in the trial of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre faced each other. They were prosecution lawyer Harry Roque, representing the families of the victims, and defense counsel Howard Calleja, representing former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan (and not the other defendants), one of the principal accused.

In brief, the point of contention was that Zaldy Ampatuan was denied his right to due process. Calleja said his client has not yet been subjected to a preliminary investigation, which is the right of any accused. The case against him was dismissed by then Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra who did not find probable cause against him. However, he was again included among the defendants with the change of administration, without a preliminary investigation. “All we’re asking for is to be given our right to a preliminary investigation,” Calleja said.

Roque countered that Ampatuan has already been investigated by several fiscals who found probable cause against him. “What the defense is asking for is dilatory,” he said.

The issue has been raised to the Court of Appeals (CA) which is taking its own sweet time in deciding a simple case. If the trial is delayed, blame the CA justices.

Calleja said Ampatuan has not asked to be a state witness. What he said was that he wanted to tell what he knows about the massacre, no matter who gets hurt, even if it includes his own father and brother. He is not asking for anything in return, Calleja emphasized. He did not ask to be a state witness. He is not asking to be excluded from the list of defendants. He just wants to tell the truth and get it out of his conscience.

A prosecution witness said Ampatuan was present during a family meeting that planned the massacre, and therefore he conspired with the others to commit the mass murders. But Ampatuan claims he was in Malacañang Palace at that time, and he has photographs with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to prove it.

If he was in Malacañang, what can he testify about the family meeting where the massacre was planned? Roque asked. And didn’t his  mere presence in the planning session make him a conspirator?

No, Calleja said. Even if Ampatuan did not object or protest, even if he had agreed to the plan, that does not make him a conspirator. The legal definition of a conspirator is one who has done a covert act to further the commission of the crime, Calleja explained. Ampatuan has not done any such thing. In fact, he was in Manila at the time of the massacre.

Doesn’t that make him a suspect? Most masterminds make it a point to be seen elsewhere at the time a crime is committed so they could have an alibi.

The fact that Ampatuan took pains to be in Malacañang and have himself photographed with the President at the time of the massacre makes him suspect. And anyway, Roque said, a witness has testified that he was present in the meeting. She saw him during that meeting.

Ampatuan cannot be in two places at the same time, countered his defense lawyer. Photographs can’t lie.

The two lawyers were asked how long the trial would last. Consider this: There are at least 107 prosecution witnesses and there are about the same number of defendants. Each defendant is entitled to his own lawyer, and each defense counsel is entitled to cross-examine each witness. And each prosecution witness will first undergo direct examination by prosecution lawyers. Then the defense will present its own witnesses, each of whom will be subjected, in turn, to direct and cross examination. Now take out your calculators and figure out how long such a trial would last.

By Roque’s own computation, it would last more than 100 years at the present pace of the trial, by which time all the defendants would be dead.

Can’t the trial be hastened? the two lawyers were asked. The crime seems to be a simple open-and-shut case. The victims, the corpus delicti, are there. The suspects are there. Their motive is strong. There are witnesses. It is not a complicated case. Why the need for so many witnesses?

Roque replied that they are thinking precisely of that: reducing the number of witnesses to hasten the trial. We want to concentrate on the Ampatuans, the masterminds, he said. The rest can come later.

Calleja, although he does not represent the other defendants, said that in the interest of justice, those who are innocent of the crime should be dropped from the roster of defendants as quickly as possible. The crime is non-bailable, so all the accused are locked up in jail until the trial is completed and those who are innocent are acquitted.

Shouldn’t the trial be held the whole day, every day, to hasten it? Shouldn’t the judge be relieved of the other cases in her court so she can concentrate on the trial of the massacre? Imagine the court transcripts that the judge would have to wade through when making her decision. Just writing the decision will take a very long time. The decision must be a foot thick. What is the Supreme Court doing to help the judge?

The discussion led to the very slow administration of justice in the Philippines. Both lawyers agreed, this time, that the justice system needs reforms to speed up the resolution of cases. The first of these reforms is to increase the number of judges so that the court dockets are not clogged. The second is for the judges and prosecutors to work harder and longer, and in the case of judges not to grant postponements so readily.

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  • Anonymous

    The defense lawyers would be so glad that this case will last more than their lifetime. There will be tons of monies earned from court appearances that will guarantee their retirement. Maybe the BIR of Ms Genares would be curious enough to know how much is actually being paid to these defense lawyers of the Ampatuan clans compared to what they declare in their income taxes.

  • Anonymous

    Justice delayed is always justice denied.

    The judiciary is still one of the “weakest” links to our progress.
    The recent Supreme Court decisions on Hacienda Luisita, Webb case, Truth Commision etc.
    are controversial

    Some judge’s decisions are controversial and erroneous (e.g. Davao demolition,etc)
    Some are crooks in robes (e.g. Makati Family Court judge corrupting solemnization fees)

    How can anyone not doubt the courts?

  • Anonymous

    Calleja said Ampatuan has not asked to be a state witness. What he said
    was that he wanted to tell what he knows about the massacre, no matter
    who gets hurt, even if it includes his own father and brother. He is not
    asking for anything in return, Calleja emphasized.

    e TANGA ka pala e..CALLEJA!

    Calleja said Ampatuan has not asked to be a state witness…paano magiging state witness si zaldy ampatuan,e,iginigiit nga ni zaldy ampatuan na wala siyang kasalan.e,di ibig
    sahinin hindi sya qualified maging “state witness”…dapat kasi “may
    admission of guilt at dapat least guilty ka.”

    He is not
    asking for anything in return, Calleja emphasized……lokohin mo lolo mong panot!

    Sa palagay mo ba papayag c zaldy ampatuan na sabihin ang lahat-lahat na walang hinihinging kapalit!!
    wag mo kaming gaguhin Calleja!



  • Jude Fawley

    Have Rodrigo Duterte as the judge and the Davao Death Squad the jury………….i’m guessing one week?

    • Anonymous

      Have Rodrigo Duterte as the judge and the Davao Death Squad the jury???

      matutuwa ang mga may-ari ng funeraria yan…pati na rin un embalsamador,sepulturero at taga gawa ng lapida! hehehe

  • Anonymous

    The culture of impunity in exchange for money is difficult
    to change in our country – only drastic fast sentencing of those
    guilty together with all parties in collusion will usher in long desired change
    but that is a farfetched dream at the moment. 

    Maybe PNoy can do something and be our hero and make a real big contribution
    toward such a change, but unfortunately so far his first year
    in office has been a major letdown in this particular regard.
    Nothing doing nothing’s changed no big surprises either. 

  • Anonymous

    Given the number of accused in the Maguindanao incident and the sad state of our judiciary said to be easily manipulated, this case can degenerate into one backlash after another and the time-line can go on forever depending on dole outs. Large sums of money may take its toll and the case can just go haywire, kaput. Why can’t we not assign case to the International Criminal Court at the UN, this incident all too glaringly portray war crimes hence taking strides from testimonies of the former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan definitely can be good material indict GMA as a war criminal, therefore expunge every aspect of her, deleted in our books as a democracy. She is widely thought to have cheated her way in the 2004 elections and if proven rightly, was even a fake president. This certainly will abbreviate our woes now exceedingly too heavy a burden, just imagine losing the case because witnesses no longer find trust in a system that in their mind may be easily bought instead take the bribe offers themselves, how will this be?

  • Guest

    Nothing seems to get resolved by our justice system when the indictees are rich and powerful.  Why not OUTSOURCE our big time court cases to the Australia or United States?  We may see justice served fairly and swiftly. I have totally lost faith and confidence in our system.

  • Andy Dufresne

    Plebisito. Tapos yang mga hayop nayan.

  • Anonymous

    The only way justice will be swift is for PNoy to declare emergency rule. With all the serious issues facing the nation: Maguindano Massacre, a fake past President, plunderers, disasters, poverty and corruption, etc, we need a strong powerful President with good morals who can act decisively and fairly. Lawyers and going by the book will only delay justice unnecessarily and waste time, money and effort. Go ahead, Noynoy, be a dictator and succeed where your mother failed. She had the chance but did not use it. She could have done a lot. 

  • Anonymous

    100 years is justice delayed, justice denied.

    Maybe prosecution don’t need 107 witnesses, how about 7 witnesses? Is a class suit applicable to murder or massacre? 

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