MANILA — The Supreme Court has extended the deadline for the ruling on the cases against Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and nearly 200 others tagged in the massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao province nearly a decade ago, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said Friday.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, which handles the case, declared it submitted for decision as of Aug. 22, and a verdict was supposed to be released before the 90-day period lapsed on Nov. 20.
However, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in a letter to the Supreme Court asked for a 30-day extension of the deadline due to "the voluminous records of these cases which have now reached 238 volumes," including transcripts and the prosecution’s evidence.
Considering the number of accused and victims, Solis-Reyes’ motion is meritorious, Peralta said in first press conference since taking office.
The Chief Justice however said he hoped that the judge would refrain from seeking for another extension so that the case will finally be decided before the end of the year.
Peralta also said he was not surprised that the case dragged on for a decade, as he has never seen a case involving this number of victims, even when he was still a prosecutor and trial court judge.
“I am frustrated with what happened to the victims but I think Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes did her best in order to give justice to the victims and also in order to accord the accused due process of law under the Constitution,” he said.
The victims included 32 journalists and the wife and 2 sisters of former Maguindanao governor and now Rep. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. They were on their way to file his candidacy when their convoy was strafed in Ampatuan town on Nov. 23, 2009.
The victims were buried in a shallow mass grave, which authorities later found with backhoes still in the area.
Ampatuan allegedly led the attack carried out by other family members alarmed by Mangudadatu's challenge to their decades-old hold on power in the area.
The Maguindanao massacre is one of the world's worst election-related incidents of violence and among the deadliest attacks on journalists. Report from Mike Navallo