Responders gather the remains of the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre
MEDIA ORGANIZATIONS have expressed alarm and dismay over the decision by government prosecutors handling the 2009 Maguindanao Massacre case to rest their case in both the bail proceedings and the multiple murder charges against members of the Ampatuan clan.
The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, a network of media organizations committed to press freedom and the protection of media workers, said the move by government prosecutors gives the impression that they just want the Ampatuan trial “over and done with,” regardless of how strong the case is in court.
The media groups stressed that the resting of the case in the multiple murder case is premature, and expressed hope that this was not a bid “to boost the chances of the 2016 presidential candidate of the present administration or the talked-about senatorial bid of some cabinet members.”
In a statement released to the public, the FFFJ questioned the panel’s decision to rest its presentation of evidence in both the bail proceedings and the evidence-in-chief against former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr, his son Andal Jr and Zaldy, and 25 other principally accused.
The Department of Justice prosecution panel had formally told the court that it was no longer presenting any more evidence for both the bail and the massacre case itself. It will now be the turn of the defense to present rebuttal evidence.
The case is still stuck in the bail proceedings for the accused in the Maguindanao Massacre four years after 58 people including 32 media workers were killed on a remote hilltop in Maguindanao province allegedly on orders of the Ampatuan patriarch. The murders are considered the worst case of election related violence in the country, and the worst single incident against journalists in the world.
While the case is still in the bail proceedings, both the defense and the prosecution had earlier agreed to consider all evidence presented in the bail proceedings for the multiple murder case as well.
Some of the massacre victims were left unburied by their killers
While the FFFJ interposed no objection to the prosecution’s resting its presentation of evidence in the bail proceedings, the network objected to the decision of the prosecutors to rest the case on the evidence-in-chief as well. The prosecutors had also told the court that it is “not inclined” to present additional evidence against the accused.
The FFFJ said this announcement was “premature” because there was still a pending motion to discharge Police Inspector Rex Diongon and Police Officers Rainier Ebus and Mohamad Sangki from the list of accused. Because of this pending motion for their discharge, their testimonies are still excluded from consideration by the court in considering the bail petition of the Ampatuans.
“Resting the presentation of evidence in chief without awaiting the resolution regarding the issue of said discharge seems to show that the DOJ panel is not interested in the outcome of the petition,” the FFFJ said. “Its statement that it is not inclined to present additional evidence also seems to show that the DOJ panel just wants to get the (Ampatuan Maguindanao Massacre Case) trial over and done with.”
The group added that this decision “sends the message that the DOJ panel cares little about the quantum of evidence required to secure a conviction.”
“The promise of President Benigno Aquino III, echoed by Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima, that there will be convictions before his term ends in 2016 is very welcome,” the FFFJ statement says. “It is hoped, however, that that promise will not be delivered by rushing criminal proceedings just to boost the chances of the 2016 presidential candidate of the present administration or the talked-about senatorial bid of some cabinet members.”
The FFFJ is composed of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Center for Community Journalism and Development, the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, the Philippine Press Institute, and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
The entire text of the FFFJ statement follows:
The Justice We SeekLast February 28, the Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecution panel in the Ampatuan, Maguindanao Massacre consolidated cases (AMMC) filed a manifestation before the Regional Trial Court Branch 221 of Quezon City that it is ready to rest presentation of evidence in the bail proceedings and evidence-in-chief against 28 accused.The DOJ prosecution panel also stated it is “not inclined” to present additional evidence against those already arraigned at the time of the filing of its manifestation.The manifestation has elicited relief that an end to the more than four years of presentation of prosecution evidence is in sight, but surprise that the prosecution is also resting its presentation of evidence-in-chief, and dismay that the DOJ panel is “not inclined” to present additional evidence.There is a difference between evidence presented in opposition to bail and that presented as evidence-in-chief. The former needs to establish strong evidence of guilt in order to convince the trial court to deny the separate petitions for bail filed by the accused. The latter must establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt to secure conviction.In the AMMC, those of the accused with petitions for bail are allowed to present evidence in support of bail. This is considered a rebuttal of prosecution evidence presented in opposition to bail. To date, accused Andal Ampatuan Sr., Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, through their counsel, have manifested they shall be presenting such rebuttal evidence.Under the Rules of Court, bail must first be resolved before criminal proceedings move on to the trial proper. The grant or denial of bail serves as a gauge of the appreciation and weight given to evidence presented so far.In most criminal proceedings, the prosecution moves on to presentation of evidence-in-chief after the trial court has ruled on the petition for bail. The denial of bail would indicate strong evidence of guilt. The grant of bail would show otherwise. In the latter case, the prosecution knows it must present additional and more compelling evidence during the trial proper in order to establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.In the case of the 28 accused – which includes Ampatuan Jr. and Police Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay – the DOJ panel wants to rest both in the petitions for bail and the presentation of the evidence-in-chief. This means the panel has no plans to present additional evidence after the petitions for bail of these 28 accused have been resolved by the trial court.Its manifestation that it is “not inclined” to present additional evidence against all accused already arraigned (more than 70 of them excluding the 28 accused listed in the 28 February 2014 manifestation of the DOJ prosecution panel) further confirms the conclusion that, regardless of whether bail for the 28 accused is denied or granted, the DOJ panel is not presenting additional evidence.Such “wholesale” resting is premature as the discharge of accused Police Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, Police Officer 1 Rainier Ebus and Mohamad Sangki is still pending before the higher courts. Because of the pendency of their discharge, their testimonies have been excluded by the trial court in its appreciation of prosecution evidence presented in opposition to the bail petitions filed by accused Police Inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg, Andal Ampatuan Sr., and Zaldy Ampatuan.Resting the presentation of evidence-in-chief without awaiting the resolution regarding the issue of said discharge seems to show that the DOJ panel is not interested in the outcome of the petition. Its statement that it is “not inclined” to present additional evidence also seems to show the DOJ panel just wants to get the AMMC trial over and done with.Resting simultaneously in bail and evidence-in-chief, despite the bail petitions’ being still unresolved by the trial court, and the pending discharge of some of the accused, sends the message that the DOJ panel cares little about the quantum of evidence required to secure conviction.We are six months away from the 5th year of the massacre. We have complained about the slowness of the wheels of justice. We want speedy justice.The promise of President Benigno Aquino III, echoed by Secretary of Justice Leila de Lima, that there will be convictions before his term ends in 2016 is very welcome.It is hoped, however, that that promise will not be delivered by rushing criminal proceedings just to boost the chances of the 2016 presidential candidate of the present administration or the talked-about senatorial bid of some cabinet members.The conviction of all who are guilty of the murder of 58 people – 32 of whom were media workers – is the justice we seek. This is possible only through the conscientious efforts of the government prosecutors to present evidence that would establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt. Anything less is tantamount to compromising their sworn duty as public servants.SIGNATORIES:Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists:Center for Community Journalism and DevelopmentCenter for Media Freedom & ResponsibilityKapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng PilipinasPhilippine Center for Investigative JournalismPhilippine Press Institute