De Lima OK with separate trial for primary massacre suspects

by Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 23 2011 08:03 PM | Updated as of Nov 24 2011 04:05 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is amenable to the idea of separating the trial between the principal accused and the minor suspects in the Maguindanao massacre.

"Kung ang target is magkaroon agad ng verdict in the principal accused, mga nagkunchaba, kung yung ang target, why not? Mas maganda para may maasahan na resulta ang buong bayan. Karamihan second players, minor players, mga nautusan lang. That can wait," she said.

De Lima said the prosecution panel is already studying that option.

"Pinag-aaralan na yan not only on the legal propriety but also on practicality, feasibility...Ano ba advantages and disadvantages? Kailangan ma-determine namin whether the advantages of such set up would outweigh the disadvantages. Ine-evaluate na yan ng panel. I'm just waiting for the recommendation," he said.

Relatives of 57 people killed in the Maguindanao massacre marked two years since the killings Wednesday with pleas for authorities to speed up the justice process.

While key leaders of the Ampatuan clan who are accused of orchestrating the killings have been charged, their trial is still in its early stages, and prosecutors fear it could take years before anyone is convicted for the crime.

Meanwhile, 100 suspects -- including members of the Ampatuan family, policemen and soldiers -- have yet to be caught, and relatives of the victims have complained that witnesses are being killed, intimidated or bribed.

Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said Malacañang wants the trial of the Maguindanao massacre to be fast-tracked, and hopes that the judiciary can do something about it.

He said the case is not entirely in the hands of the executive branch or the prosecution.

"It is within the discretion of the trial judge, it is within the discretion of the judiciary. We ourselves in the prosecution, we ourselves in the executive branch, we share the public's concern that this case is taking so long and we would hope that the judiciary would take a second look at the pace of the trial so that justice would be obtained within this term, within the administration of President Aquino," Lacierda said. With reports from Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News; and Agence