SC has taken ‘extraordinary’ steps for speedy Maguindanao massacre trial — Sereno
MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court has already taken “extraordinary” measures to ensure the speedy disposition of the five-year-old Maguindanao Massacre trial.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno aired this sentiment, at the Journalism Asia Forum in Quezon City on Sunday, coinciding with the commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre.
The 2009 massacre took the lives of 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists, in a crime perceived as the worst election-related violence in the Philippines and the single worst attack on journalists in the world.
Sereno, the keynote speaker at the international conference organized by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), admitted that she could not answer the pressing question of when the trial for the “shocking” case would end.
“The only answer I can tell you with all sincerity is that the judiciary is doing its best, the Supreme Court is exercising its power in a way it has never done before, to bring a speedy end to the long anguished wait,” Sereno told the media present at the JAF conference, which included delegates from the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX).
Sereno assured that she has been personally keeping track of the case to ensure a speedy trial, and emphasized that the judiciary has taken “extraordinary” measures over the years for the same cause.
“In 2013, the Supreme court came up with new guidelines to speed up the disposition of the Maguindanao trial. The guidelines apply only to this one case. This is extraordinary. The Supreme Court has never done this before,” Sereno said.
Since the trial began on Jan. 5, 2010, Sereno said that it “has proceeded nonstop,” with no breaks except for official holidays. Two days a week have been devoted to evidentiary hearings, one day a week for hearing motions.
Too, Sereno noted that the judge handling the case, Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, has been “focused only on this case, having been relieved of all other duties.” Three assisting judges have been assigned to Reyes’ court.
Sereno said the transcripts of the hearings so far have reached 70 volumes and the records for the case 77 volumes. Sereno ran down the figures: 58 victims; 197 originally accused and 111 arraigned; 70 bail petitions, 42 of which have already been resolved, with 166 witnesses having testified.
“These data explain in part the long trial,” Sereno told the media at the JAF.
But Sereno admitted that even the courts had its shortcomings in the struggle for accountability in crimes, in general: “The long arm of the law often has a very short reach.”
“One of our greatest limitations is that courts do not have the capability to serve some of our own writs, processes … we are dependent on external agencies to enforce our orders, writs and processes … This situation is unacceptable to me,” the chief justice said.
She acknowledged, however, that combating impunity, the theme of this year’s JAF, should be seen as a “shared burden” of the Philippine courts and media and she emphasized the need “to work together, not against each other.”
The CMFR described impunity as “the failure to punish crime which engenders more crime,” a description befitting the unresolved Maguindanao massacre.
“By shining a light in the areas that a culture of impunity keeps dark, the media plays a crucial role in stopping impunity and ensuring accountability. On the other hand, the courts ensure that the media may shine a light, where and when needed, by protecting the crucial freedoms that ensure independence of the press,” Sereno said.
“This is our common cause, our shared burden, our one hope,” Sereno added.
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