SC mouthpiece speaks up on ‘judicial massacre’
We take exception to Inquirer’s Nov. 26 editorial (“Judicial massacre”), particularly on the following points:
1. The editorial stated that “(n)ot one suspect has been charged in the massacre.” But in the previous paragraph, it noted that “106 so far are being tried.” The two statements are contradictory. This makes the editorial misleading. For the record, in a Nov. 23, 2016, briefer released to the media (including to the Inquirer justice beat reporter), it is clearly stated that there are 106 being tried.
2. It is wrong, not just unfair, to blame the judiciary only for the so-called “judicial massacre.” This case is not solely the judiciary’s concern, and any “shortcomings” are not solely attributable to the court.
Again, as pointed out in our Nov. 23 briefer, “There are 12 lawyers comprising the third Panel of Public Prosecutors, 7 private prosecutors, and 27 defense lawyers/firms actively attending the proceedings. The transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 53 volumes, while the records of the cases are 117 volumes thick. As of November 23, 2016, the court has already heard a total of 232 witnesses: 131 prosecution witnesses, 58 private complainants, and 43 defense witnesses. The trial court has resolved all the 12 sets of Formal Offer of Evidence (FOE) in connection with the bail applications of 69 accused. It has likewise resolved all bail applications of the accused, except that of accused Andal ‘Unsay’ Ampatuan, Jr., whose formal offer of evidence was deemed submitted for resolution on October 14, 2016.”
“All bail proceedings having been resolved (except for accused Ampatuan Jr.), the proceedings are already now at the stage of presentation of the evidence-in-chief. The prosecution is no longer presenting evidence in the main cases against 103 of the accused subject of the six batches of FOEs it has already filed in Court.
“It is now the turn of the defense to present its evidence-in-chief. Nine of the accused, who were the subject of the first batch of defense FOEs resolved by the Court on June 13, 2016, have already either presented their defense evidence or filed a demurrer to evidence. As of this writing, only one accused of the nine is still presenting defense evidence.
“The second batch of defense FOEs, involving 45 of the accused, has already been resolved on November 15, 2016. The initial presentation of their defense evidence of these 45 accused will commence on January 19, 2017.”
It is also wrong and unfair to blame the court, and the court alone, for all the delay in this case as that unfairly shifts the burden of prosecution—and not adjudication—to this court. The court cannot judge until the evidence is fully presented to it, and it has no hand in the presentation of the evidence. That is solely the province of the lawyers—public prosecutor, defense lawyers, and private counsels for the prosecution and the defense.
We have painstakingly reported to the public developments in this case and highlighted the unique circumstances (including the volume of court records and the number of witnesses heard). But this did not seem to matter to the Inquirer as it simply characterized all that has been done as a “judicial massacre”—never mind that no less than the Chief Justice has reported on every occasion she has been asked and that she is monitoring the case, and that the Supreme Court en banc has provided new guidelines applying only to this case to speed up the case.
The Dec. 10, 2013 guidelines provide for, among others, nonstop trial, excluding holidays, assigning three assisting judges to handle incidental matters such as motions, freeing the trial judge from other cases so that she can concentrate only on this case, allowing separate trials and separate judgments, the mandatory use of judicial affidavits. The editorial also totally ignored altogether the extraordinary personal and professional sacrifice of the trial judge handling this case, which is public knowledge by now and has been subject of several briefings, including in press conferences conducted by no less than the Chief Justice herself. Yet, at no point in time in the editorial were these mentioned.
3. The editorial stated: “(T)hat seven years have gone by and no one has been made accountable for one of the most barbaric crimes in recent memory is itself a crime.” It ignored the fact that the process of apportioning blame, adjudging liability and meting out sentences, if warranted, comes at the end of the adjudication process and that process isn’t over, yet. Under the Constitution, the courts are required to conduct a fair and impartial process to hold one accountable for any crime; that process is as important as who is made accountable. The courts cannot rush to judgment without offending due process.
That the trial court is following due process with all due care and, under the circumstances, with utmost dispatch, is an indication of how seriously the judiciary takes its duty in relation to this bellwether case. That it has chosen to give meaning to the Constitution and its command to follow due process despite the hooting of the throng is indication enough that the court will not allow yet another massacre—that of the truth.
THEODORE O. TE, assistant court administrator and chief public information officer, Supreme Court
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