QC court junks contempt rap vs prosecutor in massacre case

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MANILA, Philippines–A Quezon City court has junked a contempt charge lodged against one of the private prosecutors in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre case.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Regional Trial Court Branch 221 said lawyer Nena Santos cannot be cited in contempt as the statements she made in a 2012 newspaper article did not violate the sub judice rule.

In her four-page order, Reyes noted that only statements that tend to influence the court or obstruct the administration of justice can be considered as contemptuous.

The court added that there was nothing in Santos’s statements that would “tend to influence the court or the trial proceedings.”

Reyes also reminded Santos to refrain from making unnecessary media statements that might involve the merits of the case.

The contempt charge stemmed from a Philippine Star article, dated June 28, 2012, on the death of Alijol Ampatuan, a possible witness in the trial according to Santos.

Santos, the counsel for Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, was quoted as saying that the prosecution panel was planning to make Alijol a witness to corroborate other witnesses’ statements.

The Ampatuan clan and their supporters are facing 57 counts of murder for the deaths of lawyers, women relatives and supporters of Mangudadatu and 32 media workers on Nov. 23, 2009.

In reaction to the newspaper article, lawyers for primary accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. said Santos’ statements influenced the judge and the public’s perspectives on the innocence of the accused.

This prompted the defense to ask the court to have Santos explain why she should not be cited in contempt. The defense also moved to bar the lawyer from making any further media statements about the case.

Santos, however, claimed that the Ampatuan lawyers did not present proof that the newspaper article influenced the court.

The private prosecutor added that it cannot be concluded that Santos indeed made the statements since the news report did not have direct quotes made by her.

The court noted that while Santos’s disowning the statements was flimsy, it is not convinced that the lawyer violated the sub judice rule which bars parties from discussing the merits of the case in public.

In her order, Reyes said the questioned statements did not go into the merits of the case. It did not discuss who was behind Alijol’s death, the judge added.

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