De Lima: No guarantee of massacre convictions by 2016
MANILA, Philippines–The government hopes to secure the convictions of at least some of the primary suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, but there is no assurance this would happen before President Aquino steps down in 2016, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
“I [can’t make a] commitment on [convictions by 2016] because [the case] is up to the court. Our expectations, the efforts of the prosecution, are toward achieving the conviction of even a few of the principal accused by 2016, especially the members of the Ampatuan family,” De Lima told reporters in an interview on Friday.
“Since it’s in the courts already, the prosecution can’t make a promise or commitment about convictions. It’s beyond our control. What’s more important is that the prosecutors will not be remiss in their role, that they will always attend hearings and present witnesses,” she said.
Several members of the Ampatuan family, prominent among them, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., together with their henchmen, are being tried for the murder of 58 people, including 32 media workers, on Nov. 29, 2009.
With more than 200 defendants, there have been concerns the trial could last for decades. The Supreme Court gave Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes the job of presiding over the trial. The prosecution rested its case last August.
De Lima said the public and private prosecutors were busy preparing for the submission of the rebuttal evidence by the accused.
“There are reportedly 300 witnesses listed by the defense. So can you just imagine how time-consuming that would be? So we are hoping that Judge Reyes will control the proceedings, that the presentation of witnesses would not take that long,” De Lima said.
De Lima said she was hoping the judicial affidavit rule issued by the Supreme Court could be applied to the trial, with the witnesses just submitting sworn statements that would serve as their direct testimony and then being called on the stand if the prosecutors want to cross-examine them.
De Lima, who attended a United Nations-sponsored meeting in France last week regarding the protection of journalists, recounted that she was asked about proposals for “state compensation” to the families of the slain newsmen.
“I merely reiterated the government’s position, that this incident was orchestrated by the Ampatuans [so they should be the ones to indemnify the victims’ families]. This did not happen under this administration. Anyway, there is a civil aspect to this case. That is why private complainants also presented evidence on the civil aspect,” she said.
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