FFFJ counsel: Clarifications on issues raised by Atty. Roque
Below are clarifications made by Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists(FFFJ) legal counsel Prima Jesusa Quinsayas on issues raised by Attorney Harry Roque, her fellow private prosecutor in the Ampatuan massacre trial:
I was informed about Atty. Harry Roque’s reaction to the matter regarding the plan of the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors to rest in evidence-in-chief against some accused, including accused who have petitions for bail and have manifested that they will be presenting rebuttal evidence in support of their bail petitions.
I respect Atty. Roque as a more experienced lawyer. I have made no comment on how he feels he should defend the interest of his 14 or 15 clients in the massacre case. In fact, I personally assisted the late Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera III in compiling the necessary documents for the filing of the 57th case for the murder of Victor Nuñez. I even accompanied the DOJ personnel from the Witness Protection Program in filing said case before the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 of Quezon City. Atty. Roque represents the kin of victim Victor Nuñez.
With all due respect to Atty. Roque, the list of 28 accused against whom the DOJ prosecutors plan to rest in evidence-in-chief does not reflect the “First In, First Out” concept. My understanding of the concept is that the accused first put on trial would be the one whose case would first be resolved. But whether it’s First to be Arraigned, or First to File a Petition for Bail, the list does not reflect any of those.
Thus, based on the list of 28 accused, his reason for supporting the partial resting in evidence-in-chief does not hold.
As for the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court for the criminal proceedings of the massacre case, the “First In First Out” as a term does not appear in said guidelines. Instead, the guidelines allow separate trials for the accused if so decided by the trial judge based on her discretion.
Atty. Roque also claimed the conflict is just between Atty. Santos and me and everyone else. I was surprised because I did not know I had a conflict with “everyone else” which I guess includes him. I have no issue with Atty. Roque nor with his associates, whom I find very professional especially Atty. Avisado and Atty. Andres.
As for the other private prosecutors, Attys. Mella, Pastores, Principe and Principe, we have had very few opportunities to talk so it is baseless to claim I have a conflict with them.
That leaves Atty. Ma. Gemma Oquendo, who is both a private prosecutor and a private complainant. Her sister Atty. Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon and her father Catalino Oquendo Jr. were among those killed in the November 23, 2009 massacre. We are good friends and, while she has not said her piece in public, I know she believes it is premature to rest in evidence-in-chief against accused with petitions for bail and who have manifested that they will be presenting rebuttal evidence in support of their bail petitions. These accused are Datus Andal Ampatuan Sr., Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, who to date are the only accused seeking bail with written manifestation that they intend to present such rebuttal evidence.
My duty as private prosecutor is simple: protect the interest of the 17 media victims I represent and who are under the assistance of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, and ensure we secure the conviction of those guilty of the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre.
I believe it is part of said duty that I oppose the plan to rest in evidence-in-chief against accused who seek bail and have manifested that they will present rebuttal evidence in support of their bail petitions. I am simply making my opposition known. I am not asking the other private prosecutors — I have certainly not asked Atty. Roque — to join me in this opposition.
The burden of proof in a criminal case like murder is always on the prosecution: establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. I do not want to take chances without having seen or heard the rebuttal evidence of the accused in support of their petitions for bail. Their defense counsels are not some greenhorn lawyers unschooled in criminal litigation. Should bail be granted, I fear for the lives of the witnesses who testified against these powerful accused. I fear for the well-being of their families as well.
Regardless of what each private prosecutor thinks is the most sound legal strategy in the prosecution of these consolidated cases, I believe we all want convictions. Surely, Atty. Roque has no conflict with me about that.
(Atty. Prima Jesusa Quinsayas' statement was first published Friday, August 8, 2014, on the website of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, which serves as FFFJ's technical and administrative secretariat.)
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