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DOJ and the Ampatuan trial

11:45 PM December 01, 2013

All over media can be heard the agonizing lament of the victims’ kin, and perhaps the entire citizenry, that four years after the horrific Maguindanao massacre, the conclusion of the criminal cases filed against those allegedly liable is not even in sight.

The prosecutors handling the cases in the face of awesome difficulties have undoubtedly exerted exceptional effort to conclude the cases. What might have exacerbated the anxieties of those aggrieved may be the apparent silence of the Department of Justice.

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At the risk of being officious, I suggest that the justice secretary chair and lead the panel of prosecutors. If unable to do so,  a ranking official, and if regrettably unavailable, a special prosecutor may be commissioned. It should be assured that, except for insuperable reasons, whoever chairs and leads the panel of prosecutors, does so “full-time” and stays on the job until the conclusion of the cases.

There can be no finger-pointing for the apparent delay. What is vital is that the causes for the delay be identified, immediately addressed and avoided in the future. The causes of the delay may not be imputed to the court, much less to the defense.

Of late what appear to be regarded by the DOJ as its primary concern, which demand its attention, are antigraft cases particularly those involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund and similar cases. The fact, however, is that the investigation and prosecution of antigraft cases are the responsibility and the duty of the Ombudsman, no longer of the DOJ.

If we were to look at the Bill of Rights, the most valued rights are firstly, “life” and secondly, “liberty.” Government adopts measures to protect “life” by different means, such as having a police force to enforce the law. To deter the unlawful termination of life, severe penalties are imposed on those liable. But such measures can effectively deter the commission of offenses only if those responsible are promptly identified, strenuously prosecuted and convicted.

On the other hand, to protect the “liberty” guaranteed every person, including those charged with criminal offenses, the accused are not only presumed innocent but are entitled to a speedy trial.

In my over 60 years as a lawyer, I have been privileged to act for the prosecution of criminal cases, as solicitor general and justice minister, as well as counsel for the defense. Notwithstanding the apparently insurmountable difficulties, I am confident that an expeditious conclusion of the Maguindanao massacre cases is possible.

It can be done! But there is need, to put it in colloquial terms, to employ a strategy out of the box.

—ESTELITO P. MENDOZA, [email protected]

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TAGS: ampatuan, human rights, maguindanao massacre, Media killings, nation, news
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