Private, public prosecutors in Maguindanao massacre trial at odds over strategies
MANILA, Philippines—Is it really a rift between the public and private prosecutors in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre case, or among the private lawyers themselves?
Two private prosecutors in the Maguindanao are pointing to deep-seated differences with the state prosecutors, which are supposedly affecting the panel’s legal tactics in the case.
However, another outspoken private lawyer has contested this, saying the conflict is actually between two private prosecutors and the rest of the panel.
Lawyers Nena Santos and Prima Jesusa Quinsayas claimed that the “professional rift” between the public and private prosecutors have been affecting decision-making, which they warned may lead to a mistrial of the landmark case.
“We no longer know where they (public prosecutors) are coming from,” Santos said in a press conference on Thursday, saying they were no longer welcome to share their inputs.
The lawyer represents 27 complainants including Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu who lost his wife in the November 23, 2009 massacre, which left 58 people dead.
Quinsayas is the counsel for 17 victims, mostly media workers, under the Freedom Fund for Filipino journalists.
In a press briefing, Quinsayas said the conflict began in February 2013 after the public prosecutors failed to go to Mindanao to personally meet and prepare their witnesses there.
“We (private prosecutors) were waiting for them but they did not arrive,” she recalled.
When the case was filed in 2009, the panel was first led by assistant chief state prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon. After a rift between the lawyers, he was replaced by assistant regional state prosecutor Peter Medalle.
The current panel is led by Taguig City Prosecutor Archimedes Manabat after Medalle asked to be transferred back to Zamboanga in 2012.
Santos complained that the private lawyers were being left out of the panel’s meetings, unlike in the past when they were part of the discussions in legal tactics in prosecuting the case.
“Now they just inform us of the things that they have decided on, just as an FYI,” she said.
The private prosecutors were also no longer allowed to manifest in court since they have been “under the strict supervision and control of the public prosecutors.”
Santos admitted to having a rift with Fadullon although she did not go into details about it. She said she had a good working relationship with Medalle, who always included the private prosecutors in the meetings.
But when Manabat took over, the private lawyers were excluded from the meetings.
Quinsayas claimed that since February 2013, there was no real communication from the public prosecutors and that they sometimes got the latest information from the media.
But according to lawyer Harry Roque Jr., there is no conflict between the public and private prosecutors in the Maguindanao massacre case.
“The conflict is between lawyers Santos and Quinsayas and everyone else,” said Roque, counsel for the kin of 15 slain mediamen.
While Quinsayas and Santos slammed the public prosecutors’ plan to rest the presentation of the evidence against Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 27 others, Roque said he was adhering to the panel’s plan.
“We cannot join her in this objection because it was upon our instance that the Supreme Court allowed the system of ‘First in-First Out’ that allows the prosecution to rest its case against some of the 194 accused without waiting for the presentation of the “evidence-in-chief” against all of the accused. It was pursuant to this that the prosecutors partially rested its evidence against 28 of the accused,” he said in reaction to his fellow lawyers’ allegations.
Santos and Quinsayas appealed to their state not to push through with their plan to rest their presentation of evidence-in-chief against the 28 accused, stressing that the move would be premature and could lead to a mistrial.
Santos claimed that both public and private prosecutors initially agreed to rest the case only against primary accused Andal Jr.
“But now they have manifested to the court that they want to rest the case against Andal Jr. and 27 others. That was not what we agreed upon,” the feisty lawyer said.
She argued that by choosing to rest its presentation of the evidence-in-chief, the prosecution panel is no longer interested in presenting more evidence against the 28.
In its manifestation, the public prosecutors asked the court to note their readiness to rest the case against Andal Jr., Chief Insp. Sukarno Dicay, Supt. Abusama Mundas Maguid, nine policemen and 16 civilians.
“But it is not yet the right time to rest the cases against them!” Santos exclaimed, saying they were surprised to learn of the prosecution’s February 28 manifestation when she got a copy from the court through mail.
Quinsayas said it would be dangerous to close the opportunity to present additional evidence since the defense has been planning to present rebuttal evidence to counter the prosecution in the bail petitions of Andal Jr. and several others.
The two lawyers noted that the Quezon City judge hearing the case herself noted that the prosecution could only rest its presentation of the evidence-in-chief upon the resolution of the bail petitions.
The court can only resolve the bail petitions after the defense presents its rebuttal evidence.
“Let the judge resolve the bail petitions. And then let’s see what evidence the defense has. I still have a lot of cards up my sleeve,” Santos challenged.
Quinsayas warned that should the prosecution choose not to present any more evidence against the 28 accused, this would mean that they could no longer present additional evidence after the presentation of a rebuttal by the defense.
“Why would you close the opportunity, the chance to present additional evidence? The defense are not lightweight lawyers, it would be foolish to underestimate them,” she said.
Quinsayas said they were given until Thursday to complete their part of the prosecution’s formal of evidence. Santos has not complied with this while Quinsayas has yet to complete hers.
However, Roque saw no problem with this, saying the resting of the evidence-in-chief would only apply to the 28 accused and not to the rest of the 83 charged for the massacre.
According to Roque, this is without prejudice to the prosecution resting their evidence against Andal Sr. and Zaldy when all pending incidents in the Court of Appeals are resolved.
Roque said they suggested the ‘First in, first out’ policy to the Quezon City court hearing the case to open the chance for a partial promulgation of judgment against some of the accused, hopefully including the Ampatuans, before the end of President Aquino’s term in 2016.
Although this was initially denied by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, the Supreme Court later included this in its guidelines for the trial.
“For all the President’s fault, we know that he does not owe any debt of gratitude to the Ampatuans. We’re not sure the next President can claim this much. Personally, I hope for a conviction of the Ampatuans,” Roque added.
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