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Aquino: End Maguindanao massacre trial by 2016

By , Christine O. Avendaño

MANILA, Philippines—To ensure convictions by the time he steps down from office in 2016, President Aquino has ordered state prosecutors handling the case to oppose the dilatory tactics being employed by the alleged masterminds of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, Malacañang said on Monday.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that “since the case is a litmus test of the Philippine justice system, it is the prosecution’s aspiration that we achieve convictions of at least the principal accused during this administration. That is the President’s challenge to the Department of Justice (DOJ),” De Lima said in a statement.

A total of 195 persons have been accused in the massacre, topped by members of the Ampatuan clan who were allegedly behind the killing of 58 people on Nov. 22, 2009, in election-related violence. So far, 105 suspects have been arrested and at least 92 arraigned.

Former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., have been tagged as the alleged masterminds.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda reiterated Aquino’s instruction to the prosecutors: Oppose any attempt to delay the proceedings to ensure convictions by 2016.

“We should avoid delaying the case. On the side of the prosecution, we should oppose any dilatory tactics being employed by the other side,” Lacierda said.

He said, however, that securing convictions by 2016 would depend on the judge who has been conducting trials three times a week.

“Well, we’re trying to expedite it. There are many accused, that’s why the DOJ has been opposing any dilatory tactics,” he said. “It all depends on the judge. We’d certainly like this case resolved… without sacrificing due process.”

To avoid delays, Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has been conducting hearings thrice weekly at the instance of the Supreme Court, which is cognizant of the fact that this is the “trial of the century,” Lacierda said.

Both Malacañang and the Supreme Court share the view that the case “must proceed in a manner that is acceptable to all concerned, especially to the victims of the massacre,” he added.

De Lima, meanwhile, said Monday she would consider herself a failure if the government fails to secure a conviction of even at least one of the principal accused in the massacre.

De Lima told reporters this was the particular challenge posed to her by the President.

Despite observations that this would be impossible, De Lima said she believed otherwise.

Discussing the status of the trial now in its third and a half year, she said the prosecution had submitted its formal offer of evidence to oppose the bail applications made by the defense, which she said was causing the trial delay.

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Tags: Benigno Aquino III , Leila de Lima , Maguindanao massacre , Philippines , Rights and justice , Trial

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