Maguindanao massacre judge hopes case ‘won’t take 55,000 years’
Verdict out before Aquino term endsBy Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
She’s positive that the Maguindanao massacre trial “won’t take 55,000 years.”
Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes said on Friday that she hopes to hand down the verdict “before President Aquino ends his term.”
The judge of Regional Trial Court Branch 221 was reacting to public criticism on the slow pace of the trial that she has been handling for nearly three years.
In an interview with reporters, Reyes said the case is making progress despite the many victims and suspects involved. The perceived delays, she added, is just the judicial process at work.
“Don’t put all the blame on the court,” Reyes said, as she invited the public to visit her court so they could check the records and see for themselves how far the hearing has gone.
“If nothing is indeed happening, then what is written in our transcripts (and) court records? The case is moving forward, the prosecution is presenting evidence, and the case is being heard,” Reyes said.
46 thick folders
The usually soft-spoken judge aired her sentiments following reactions from different sectors on the recent deaths of prospective witnesses in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
The Nov. 23, 2009, massacre took the life of 57 victims, most of them journalists, and involved 195 suspects led by the Ampatuan clan.
Although Reyes only handles the Maguindanao massacre case since Branch 221 has been designated as a special court, its staff still has to attend to other cases pending before them. The judge added that the staff also helps her with research and other chores that needed to be done to resolve pleadings.
In the 31 months that the Maguindanao massacre has been in her sala, Reyes said they had accumulated 46 thick folders of legal documents, each of them at least two inches thick, aside from the court transcripts that are being transcribed by three stenographers.
Unlike other cases that are heard once a month, hearings are conducted twice a week for the criminal aspect of the Maguindanao case, aside from the two days set aside for motions and the civil aspect.
Equal to 500 cases
Reyes said that while the records are for the 57 counts of murder, the pleadings may equal those for 500 cases.
The judge explained that other factors come into play in resolving pleadings, such as pending appeals before higher courts that may affect certain proceedings in her sala.
“Don’t blame the court alone. You also have to consider other factors,” Reyes said.
The judge stressed that she has no ill feelings against those who speak out against her. “I have no right because they have freedom of expression,” she said, adding that she only hopes they would “give the whole, complete picture.”
“If they say, Judge Reyes, please resolve these, then (they must) also say (that) I’m calling the attention of the higher courts to help speed up these cases by resolving pending incidents,” she said.
Reyes added: “If it is really the court’s fault, then it is the court’s fault. But if it’s not the court’s fault alone, then say so… We are not perfect, there are shortcomings.”
What is more important, the judge said, is that there are no insinuations as to her reputation and integrity.
The judge added that she doesn’t listen or watch news on the case, unless she chanced upon it. “I’m sure some things unfavorable to me will be said. So for me to remain unaffected, I just don’t listen to it,” she said.
At the same time, Reyes said, she is only human and sometimes cannot help but feel a bit hurt at criticisms directed at her court.
“Sometimes I hear things like the notoriously slow pace (of the case). It hurts to hear it that. (So) I just try to think that those people saying that don’t really know what is happening… If they are lawyers, they know the pace of the hearings and the twice a week hearings. Then maybe they won’t say that the pace is slow,” Reyes said.
But she is not mad at her detractors, the judge said. “I just felt… it’s about time I said something,” she said.
Nearly three years into the case, Reyes said she has no regrets in accepting the landmark case. “When I accepted it, I didn’t think of… inhibiting (myself). If I did, then it’s sad for the judiciary because people might think that the judiciary is afraid,” she explained.
Asked how she thought she should handle the challenge, Reyes said: “I don’t think of (the case) as a challenge, but rather my responsibility as a judge. I am a judge, and I know I can do this.”