Justice for victims of the Maguindanao Massacre has remained elusive as court battle over the carnage reaches its seventh year.
Tomorrow (November 23), the country will again remember the 58 victims killed, including at least 32 journalists, in what has been billed as the world’s most gruesome mass murder involving media practitioners.
As of November 15, 2016, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 had heard 232 witnesses, 131 prosecution witnesses, 58 private complainants and 43 defense witnesses.
From 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuan),114 were already arrested, including one whose case was dismissed for lack of probable cause.
One accused was dropped from the amended information while two were discharged as state witnesses and one was out on bail.
Arraigned were 112 of the accused.
Four of the accused, including primary accused Andal Ampatuan Sr., died while in detention.
Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has conducted trials where 12 lawyers, seven prosecutors and 27 defense counsels participated, with the transcript of stenographic notes reaching 53 volumes.
After several court proceedings since 2009, the court has in its possession 109 volumes of records on the massacre cases, plus eight folders containing various pieces of evidence enough for court staff Roger Cristobal to be overwhelmed when asked about the number of litigation hours consumed.
The court has also resolved 12 sets of formal offer of evidence in connection with the bail petitions of the 69 accused.
It has also resolved all bail applications of the accused except that of Andal Ampatuan Jr., whose formal offer of evidence was deemed submitted for resolution on October 14, 2016.
The prosecution already filed five sets of formal offers of evidence against 106 accused, with the first batch involving nine accused being resolved on June 13, 2016.
The second batch of formal offer of evidence involving 45 accused was resolved on November 15, 2016 while initial presentation of evidence of these accused will commence on January 19, 2017.
More than 150 witnesses and thousands of pages of documentary evidence were presented but the special court handling the case–while making substantial progress in the past year–is yet to issue a single verdict against any of the accused charged with 58 counts of murder.
Despite efforts to speed up the resolution of the case, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife Genalyn and two sisters along with a number of female lawyers and staff died in the carnage, said “justice is still an elusive dream.”
Genalyn was on her way to the provincial capital of Shariff Aguak to file the governor’s certificate of candidacy when their convoy composed of media groups and their supporters was stopped by more than a hundred men in Ampatuan town.
All were shot and buried, women were raped before they were killed while the body of reporter Reynaldo Momay was never found.
Then-Buluan town vice mayor, Mangudadatu was up against the Ampatuan clan for the governorship, a move that slighted the powerful strongmen of the province.
Prosecution witnesses claimed that Ampatuan Jr. was at the forefront of the attack, an allegation he personally denied when he took the witness stand last month to testify on his whereabouts during the incident.
Other prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, including now deceased Andal Sr., were tagged as masterminds of the crime but they too denied the charges.
Since 2001, the Ampatuans had been in control of Maguindanao as patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. first rose to power when then-President Corazon Aquino appointed him as Chief-of-Offices of Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak).