Five years after the Maguindanao Massacre shocked the nation and apparently the international community, Malacañang over the weekend vowed to punish the people behind the killings and obtain justice for the 58 victims.
Despite the slow pace of the trial for the perpetrators of the reputedly unprecedented massacre that the civilized world has seen, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. told The Manila Times on Sunday, “We are determined to obtain justice, and to see the trial through its conclusion.”
Coloma said the government handles only the prosecutorial part of the case and that much of the work falls in the judiciary’s hands.
“The executive handles only prosecution. People perceive the slow pace of the trial as being government’s responsibility, without distinguishing the work of the judicial branch,” he added.
Various media groups marked the fifth anniversary of the massacre on Sunday, November 23.
Among those murdered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province in Mindanao were 30 journalists.
On Sunday morning, officers and members of the National Press Club, Camanava (Caloocan, Malabon, Navotas, Valenzuela) Press Corps under NPC Director Arlie Calalo of The Daily Tribune and the Quezon City Press Club under Rio Araja of Manila Standard Today laid wreaths at a marker honoring the massacre victims.
The NPC said the offering of flowers, candles and prayers for those killed capped the weeklong commemoration of the “darkest day in the history of Philippine press freedom.”
Coloma said members of the Ampatuan clan who are principal suspects in the case have more witnesses than the prosecution team, which has lost vital witnesses to assassinations.
Citing data from the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Palace official noted that government and private prosecutors have presented 147 witnesses. The defense, on the other hand, has 300, outnumbering the prosecution’s witnesses 2 to 1.
“That’s why there are hundreds of witnesses who are participating in the hearings,” Coloma said in defending the slow pace of the trial.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier flew to Maguindanao to meet with the victims’ families and explain to them why the case is taking so long.
“The case is very complex and that explains the ‘delay’: 58 victims, 197 accused, 147 witnesses, so far, presented by the prosecution, close to 300 witnesses being presented by the accused or defense,” de Lima said.
Just last Tuesday, two potential prosecution witnesses were ambushed in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao while on their way to meet with their lawyers.
Killed was Dennis Sakal, driver of former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., while Sukarno Butch Saudagal, former bagman of former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., was wounded.
Sakal became the latest addition to the list of witnesses who were slain after turning against the Ampatuans.
His death dealt another blow to the prosecution’s case, according to the NPC.