Papers pile up in RTC Branch 221 as kin of massacre victims wait for justiceBy Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Papers keep piling up in the courtroom of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 where for three years, the kin of the Maguindanao massacre victims have been crying for justice.
Documents are kept in 48 folders, each at least two inches thick. The staff members of the Quezon City RTC Branch 221 keep all the documents on hand for the trial.
These records do not include the court transcripts, which are being transcribed by three stenographers.
As of today, 98 out of 195 accused have been arrested so far. Only 81 have been arraigned for 57 counts of murder.
The prosecution panel filed a 58th case for massacre victim Reynaldo Momay but told Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes they would withdraw the indictment to amend it. The case included Police Officer 1 Johann Draper, who in 2010 was removed from the charge sheet.
Court staff said the court has not made a finding of probable cause in the Momay case.
“We have not yet received the new indictment as well,” the staff said.
In February, accused PO2 Hernani Decipulo fell to his death from a detention center in Bicutan, Taguig City, where he was held with most of his fellow accused.
Of the 195 accused, 56 have asked the court to let them post bail for murder, a non-bailable crime.
The court has yet to resolve any of these petitions for bail, given the multitude of pleadings filed by both parties.
In the case of prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr.’s bail petition, it is now the defense’s turn to present evidence as the prosecution has finished doing so.
The Nov. 23, 2009, Maguindanao massacre took 57 lives and is largely blamed on the Ampatuan clan.
The carnage was sparked by the decision of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu to run for Maguindanao governor against Andal Ampatuan Jr. Mangudadatu’s wife and other female kin were among those abducted and killed by militiamen allegedly led by Andal Jr. and on orders of the Ampatuan patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr.
At first, the trial was supposed to be held in Mindanao but it was transferred to Quezon City until it was raffled off to Reyes’ court on Dec. 17, 2009.
Branch 221 has been designated as a special court, meaning Reyes only handles the Maguindanao massacre. Her branch no longer gets assigned to new cases.
The existing criminal and civil cases are being handled by two assisting judges.
However, the court is still short of manpower as the courtroom workers have work related to other cases, apart from assisting Reyes in the Maguindanao massacre trial.
Unlike usual cases that are heard once a month, hearings are conducted twice a week for the criminal aspect with at least two witnesses taking the stand. This is aside from two days set aside for motions and the civil aspect.
The pleadings include motions for Reyes’ inhibition filed mostly by the accused, seven of which have been denied while two are still unresolved.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled against the live media coverage of the landmark trial.
A court staff considered the decision as wise, pointing out that live coverage might work against the orderly and fair conduct of the trial.
“The parties might take advantage of the cameras and engage in grandstanding. That would be problematic for the court to control,” the staffer said.