THE SUPREME COURT has issued new guidelines in the conduct of the Maguindanao Massacre trial in hopes of speeding up the disposition of what is considered as one of the most heinous crimes in the country.

In guidelines issued Tuesday, the Supreme Court gave Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes wider latitude to dispose of some of the pending motions before her court, and resolve issues that have been hanging because of pending motions filed with higher courts.

As well, the High Tribunal authorized Reyes to try and decide the accused separately.

The five new guidelines issued by the SC are as follows:

  • Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is authorized to resolve petitions and motions regardless of other motions pending before higher courts. Previously, Judge Reyes would refuse to rule on certain motions out of “judicial courtesy” since the accused had filed related motions before the Court of Appeals and other RTCs.
  • A third assisting judge has been designated to handle all non-trial incidents related to the massacre, such as arraignments and pre-trials, and other motions “not intrinsic to the merits of the case.”
  • Judge Reyes is ordered to implement the Judicial Affidavit Rule, wherein parties are required to submit affidavits in place of direct testimonies.
  • Judge Reyes is also enjoined, on her discretion, to conduct separate trials of the accused in cases where the prosecution no longer has to present new evidence.
  • Judge Reyes is also authorized to issue separate decisions or resolutions in any of the 58 murder cases pending before her.

Atty. Prima Quinsayas, legal counsel of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) and a private prosecutor in the Maguindanao Massacre case, hailed the SC’s decision to allow Judge Reyes to make rulings even if there is a pending motion before a higher court.

Quinsayas said defense lawyers have been filing many motions before the Court of Appeals and other Regional Trial Courts in order to delay the trial. Many times, Quinsayas said, Judge Reyes would defer decisions out of “judicial courtesy.”

For example, the cases against Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Zaldy Ampatuan had been delayed for several months because of several pending petitions before the CA. At present, Quinsayas said there are still pending petitions before the CA filed by other co-accused Sajid Islam Ampatuan and Akmad Tato. Some of these motions are pending before other RTCs in General Santos City, Taguig, and Cotabato City.

“This will definitely hasten the proceedings, there is no more reason now to defer the trial of some of the accused,” Quinsayas said.

The SC’s decision allowing Judge Reyes to hold separate trials for the accused may pose a problem for the prosecution, Quinsayas however added. Quinsayas pointed out that the prosecution team only has five litigators, who will be hard pressed to try the cases separately if Judge Solis does decide to do so.

Quinsayas said this may present severe logistical problems for the prosecution team, whose members are already burdened with other cases.

The designation of a third judge, however, could also speed up the trial. This way, Judge Reyes would not have to decide on all petitions that may be filed by any of the 197 accused in the Maguindanao Massacre case.

Also, Quinsayas said that the SC directive on the submission of judicial affidavits in place of direct testimony could shorten the trial period, as a witness would not have to give direct testimony before the court. However, the witness would still have to appear in court to identify his affidavit, and to be subjected to cross-examination.

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