MANILA, Philippines - Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, the special court designated to handle the case, remains hopeful that she would be able to hand down the verdict on the Maguindanao massacre trial by the end of the term of President Aquino in 2016.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Reyes told reporters late Thursday, two days before the fourth anniversary of the massacre today.
“The prosecution will soon terminate its presentation of evidence,” she said, referring to the status of the cases of suspects who are currently under trial.
She said her hopes for a 2016 verdict would only involve suspects who are already under the jurisdiction of the court and not every single person charged for the massacre.
Court records showed that the prosecution panel had presented 139 witnesses since court proceedings started in January 2010.
The panel has submitted its formal offer of evidence in opposition to the bail petition of some of the accused. Reyes has yet to resolve the formal offer of the prosecution.
The defense is expected to start presenting its evidence on the bail petition once Reyes issues a resolution.
Recently, defense lawyer Sigfrid Fortun summoned various individuals for interview and taking of their judicial affidavit.
Four years after the Maguindanao massacre, 89 suspects, including 15 members of the Ampatuan family, have not been arrested for the murder of 58 people.
Leading the list of the suspects still at large is Kanor Ampatuan, brother of detained clan patriarch former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Also wanted are Kanor’s son Mama, and Bahnarin and Saudi Jr. who are both grandsons of Andal Sr.
Other suspects from the Ampatuan family who have yet to be arrested are Harris, Moning, Norodin, Tony Kenis and Kagi Amar. All nine each have a P300,000 reward for their arrest, according to the wanted poster released by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG). The remaining six – Dainga, Alnor, Rodel, Kertz, Intan and Mohamad – each have a P250,000 reward for any information that would lead to their arrest.
Based on the CIDG wanted poster, other suspects who each have a P300,000 reward for their capture are Jun Pendatun, Nasser Adam, Alfie Pagabangan, Parido Zangkala Gogo, Mogira Hadji Anggulat, Hamid Delayudin and Kagi Faizal. The rest of the fugitives have a P250,000 reward for their capture.
Those with higher rewards are believed to be close relatives or allies of the Ampatuan clan, while the others are former police officers or alleged members of the family’s private army.
Based on court records, 13 other members of the Ampatuan clan are now detained at the Quezon City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.
In addition to Andal Sr., also behind bars are his sons Andal Jr., Zaldy, Anwar Sr., and Sajid Islam.
Also jailed are the clan patriarch’s son-in-law Akmad, and his grandsons Anwar Ipi and Anwar Sajid Ulo. The others are Jimmy, Jonathan, Manny, Misuari and Mohades.
The Ampatuans – who have denied involvement in the incident – are being accused of masterminding what the Committee to Protect Journalists earlier dubbed as the “single worst incident for journalists in history.”
The massacre happened in Ampatuan town, where a convoy led by the wife of then Buluan vice mayor and now Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu was stopped and brutally murdered by more than a hundred men.
The victims were on their way to file the certificate of candidacy of Mangudadatu, who was set to challenge an Ampatuan for the Maguindanao gubernatorial post.
Some 32 media men covering the filing of the certificate of candidacy were killed together with Mangudadatu’s wife Genalyn, and his two sisters, his lawyers and aides.
A total of 197 people were initially charged for the incident, but only 108 suspects have been arrested by authorities.
Only 104 have been arraigned for the initial 57 counts of murder filed in connection with the massacre.
Charges against two of the remaining four suspects, Police Officer 1 Johann Draper and Sukardo Badal, have already been dismissed; while the other two – Sahid Guiamadel alias Jun Aliman and Talembo Masukat – have yet to be arraigned.
One of those who have been arraigned, PO2 Hernanie Decipulo, died in February 2012 after allegedly jumping off the roof of his detention cell in Camp Bagong Diwa.
With regard to the 58th murder case, which was only filed in court in September 2012, four other suspects are still not arraigned in addition to Guiamadel and Masukat.
Sixty-three suspects have pending petitions for bail.
Sonny Fernandez, director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said the Ampatuan clan is now offering P50 million to each of the victims’ families for the amicable settlement of the case.
He said no one has so far accepted the offer as the struggle to convict the accused continues.
In 2011, families hinted they were offered P25 million each to enter into an amicable settlement and stop pursuing the case.
Days before the fourth anniversary of the massacre, the court was informed of two suspects who were charged and arrested based on wrong evidence.
An investigation conducted by the CIDG earlier this month showed that there was no sufficient evidence to support that suspect Jun Aliman, who was arrested on Dec. 14, 2011 in Kidapawan City, was the same Sahid Guiamadel, one of the accused in the massacre. CIDG Director Francisco Uyami said that the real Guiamadel was in fact Arnel Abdullah, who was separately arrested for illegal possession of firearms in Sultan Kudarat on Feb. 22, 2012.
The investigation revealed that the police officer who arrested the wrong man was “fooled by his informant, who had personal interests and motives against Jun Aliman.”
Aliman has yet to be released from prison, as an appropriate motion has not been filed before the court.
Meanwhile, the prosecution panel has yet to comment on the issue involving two arrested suspects, both named Dexson A. Saptula.
The first Saptula, alias Rene Matuti, was arrested on July 18, 2012 in Sarangani; the second suspect, alias Mohammad Adam, was arrested last Nov. 9 in Datu Abdullah Sangki, Maguindanao.
The return of warrant on the first Saptula (Matuti) was submitted to the court on Feb. 20, or seven months after his supposed arrest on July 18, 2012.
No affidavit of identification was attached to the spot report, which said a certain Nestor Dialangan identified Matuti as the same Saptula. He was already arraigned for the massacre.
On the other hand, the return of warrant on the second Saptula (Adam) was submitted to the court on Nov. 14. It included a joint affidavit of identification of Esmail Guiamad and Pendatun Ali, who said they personally know Adam as Saptula.
A court staff said that at least 17 suspects are claiming to be victims of mistaken arrests.
Meanwhile, the court has yet to be informed of the whereabouts of suspect Nasser Guia who was reportedly arrested last Feb. 8 in Datu Odin Sinsuat town in Maguindanao.
Malacañang yesterday assured the families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre that authorities have already intensified efforts for the immediate capture of 89 other suspects who remain at large.
Press Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Philippine National Police has been directed to arrest the other suspects and that government is doing all it can to give justice to the victims at the soonest possible time despite the slow pace of the trial.
“We are determined to erase the stigma of the culture of impunity that led to this heinous crime. The PNP has been directed to intensify efforts to arrest some 88 suspects still at large,” he told a news briefing.
According to Coloma, President Aquino and the entire government are “one with the Filipino people in affirming our solidarity with the families of those who lost their lives in the Maguindanao massacre on Nov. 23, 2009.”
He also revealed that the Department of Justice under Secretary Leila de Lima is “undertaking a continuing effort to strengthen its investigative and prosecutorial arms.”
The Palace official also welcomed the proposal of private prosecutor Harry Roque for the possible amendment of the Rules of Court, for purposes of expediting the trial and to give justice to the victims at the soonest possible time.
“We join the advocates for institutional reforms, including amendments to the Rules of Court, that will hasten the delivery of justice,” Coloma told Palace reporters in his regular briefing.
The Bayan Muna party-list group urged President Aquino to do what he can to speed up the trial of the suspects in the Maguindanao massacre and end the killing of journalists and activists in the country.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, one of the private counsels of relatives of the massacre victims, said the trial has not progressed significantly in four years. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Delon Porcalla, Paolo Romero, Aie Balagtas See, Artemio Dumlao, Dino Balabo