Woman judge accepts Ampatuan case


Posted at Dec 17 2009 03:04 PM | Updated as of Dec 18 2009 08:27 AM

Judge Jocelyn Reyes declines security

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The multiple murder case against Datu Unsay, Maguindanao Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. was re-raffled off to Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Branch 221 Thursday afternoon.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes. (File photo/TV Patrol World screen grab)

Reyes accepted the case right away after Branch 84 presiding Judge Luisito Cortez turned it down due to fears for his and his family's safety. The case was first raffled among the Quezon City lower court judges last Tuesday.

Reyes received the news while attending a Christmas party for court staff.

"Tinanggap niya kaagad. Sabi niya, 'What I can only say is that it was raffled to my sala, and I am ready to take over the case,' sabi niya," deputy director-general Jefferson Soriano, Philippine National Police deputy chief for operations, said.

Reyes, however, refused media interviews, with court staff telling reporters she would not face the media because she has yet to read the records of the multiple murder case of Ampatuan Jr.

Read Newsbreak's investigative story in 2008 on the unabated killings of judges in the Philippines and the slow response of authorities with regards to this problem: A Cry for Justice: 44 Judges Killed in Recent Years

"Hindi ho siya magbibigay ng statement... kailangan mabasa na muna niya yung records," one of her staff told reporters waiting outside her courtroom.

A 10-man police team led by Soriano was put on standby at the Quezon City RTC during the re-raffling.

The police security team was supposed to immediately secure Reyes, but the judge sent them away.

"As of now sinabi niya sa akin na 'General, I do not need yet any security. I think I do not need one, but if I need one I will call you,'" Soriano told the media.

Prior to the re-raffling of the case on Wednesday, Quezon City judges assured Supreme Court Chief Justice Reynato Puno that they will not inhibit themselves from trying the multiple murder case against Andal Ampatuan Jr.

Puno, meanwhile, promised that the judge who ends up handling the case will be provided ample security.

Ampatuan Jr. is the principal suspect in the November 23 Maguindanao massacre, which killed 57 innocent civilians, including 30 journalists, in the country's worst election-related killings. It was also the world's worst single attack against journalists.

Full support for Reyes

Supreme Court acting spokesperson Gleo Guerra said that Chief Justice Reynato Puno has vowed the "judiciary’s full support" to the 49-year-old Reyes, a public prosecutor-turned judge, to ensure her safety during the hearing of the case.

Reyes, a graduate of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Civil Law, was appointed as QC RTC presiding judge on December 28, 2004.

She previously served as a public attorney (1992-1995), public prosecutor (1995-2000), and a presiding judge of the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) in Angeles (2001-2003).

Guerra said Reyes, together with QC RTC Executive Judge Fernando Sagun, Jr. have already discussed with the Philippine National Police (PNP) about the security measures to be implemented once the trial starts.

Guerra also told reporters that Sagun, 1st Vice Executive Judge Bernelito Fernandez, and 2nd Vice Executive Judge Vicencio Baclig will go to Camp Crame to examine three possible sites for hearing the murder cases.

The three judges will submit a report as to the result of their ocular inspection to the Court, through Court Administrator Jose Perez.

"After the place of trial has been finalized, Judge Reyes will immediately set the cases for hearing. Executive Judge Sagun will also make periodic reports of the proceedings to the Court through Court Administrator Perez," Guerra said.

Preliminary probe set

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is set to conduct its first preliminary investigation into multiple murder complaints filed against nearly 200 people believed to be involved in the Maguindanao massacre, including 25 police officers currently detained at Camp Crame and members of the Ampatuan clan led by former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon said the preliminary investigation will be conducted by a panel of prosecutors composed of Senior State Prosecutors Roseanne Balauag and Anjanette Ortile, State Prosecutor Rex Gingoyon and Assistant Prosecution Attorney Xerxes Garcia.

The preliminary investigation will be held at the DOJ-Multi Purpose Hall at 2 p.m. Friday.

Fadullon said no media practitioner will be allowed inside the hearing room, but a camera will be set up in the venue of the proceeding to allow the media and the public to view the proceedings live.

More affidavits, evidence

Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuno said Andal Jr., who is detained at the nearby National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), has waived his appearance in Friday's hearing, where the prosecutors are expected to receive more affidavits and evidence which will help them determine if there is a probable cause or enough reason to charge Andal Sr. et al with the offense they are being accused of. 

Fadullon said the respondents are not required to attend in the preliminary proceedings, but the DOJ will still implement tight security around the area as "we don't want to be caught flat-footed if all of them appear or send lawyers."

Fadullon said the DOJ is concerned with the bigger personalities who will attend the hearing that they had to make security arrangements.

He added that the preliminary investigatioin may go beyond the 60-day period as required under the rules as the parties are expected to ask for extension in submitting their counter-affidavits and other evidence.

"I think they would be asking for more time. We will grant them that opportunity," Fadullon said. – With reports from Jay Ruiz, ABS-CBN News, and the ABS-CBN News Channel