PRIVATE PROSECUTORS involved in the Ampatuan massacre case are protesting a decision by the Justice Department to end the presentation of evidence in the multiple murder case, warning that this was premature and driven by political pressure.
Attorneys Prima Quinsayas and Nena Santos, who represent 44 of the massacre victims, said they had more witnesses and evidence to present before the court. The DOJ decision however closes the door to the admission of more evidence from the prosecutors.
“We have so much to lose if they do this,” Quinsayas said.
Quinsayas added that it was unusual for the prosecution panel to end its prosecution of the murder case, when the case was really just in the bail proceedings. The Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 has been hearing the bail proceedings for the Ampatuan case for more than four years because of repeated delays in the trial. Both prosecution and defense lawyers have however agreed to adopt the evidence from the bail proceedings as evidence in chief, or as evidence for the main murder case.
interview with Justice Ussec. Francisco Baraan III in November 2013
Quinsayas said Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, the judge in the murder trial, even pointed out that the proper procedure would be to resolve the bail proceedings first before resting on the main murder case. However, the DOJ panel still insisted on filing its manifestation to rest its case on both the bail proceedings and the evidence in chief at the same time.
Quinsayas stressed that this move would be irrevocable.
“Bakit tayo nagmamadali ngayong alam natin na one shot deal lang ang criminal case,” Quinsayas said. “That’s like tying our hands. Kumuha ako ng tali at tinali ko ang sarili kong kamay, and why would I do that?”
(Why are we in a rush when we know that a criminal case is a one-shot deal. This is like tying our hands. We got a rope and tied our own hands, and why would we do that?)
Quinsayas said it appears that the DOJ panel is under pressure to rush the case because President Benigno S. Aquino III has publicly said he wants a conviction in the Ampatuan case before he steps down in 2016.
“If I listen to the President, he says he will ensure conviction by 2016, so possible explanation yan na magmadali para bago matapos ang term mayroon nang conviction,” Quinsayas said. “
(If I listen to the President, he says he will ensure conviction by 2016, so that is a possible explanation for why they are rushing so there would be a conviction before his term ends.)
“If we rest in the evidence in chief, there is no more second chance to present evidence that would mean whatever evidence was rebutted by the defense,” Quinsayas said.
Santos for her part said that she has additional witnesses that she wants to present in the main murder trial. The DOJ decision effectively closes the door to her witnesses.
“May bala pa ako, at mas matindi pa,” Santos said. (I have more ammunition, and they are more powerful.)
“Marami pa akong witnesses, di pa mapresent dahil iniintay ang ebidensya ng kabila bago mailabas,” Santos said.
(I have more witnesses, and I cannot present them because we want the other side to present their evidence first.)
Quinsayas said that it was also unusual that the government prosecutors would rush to close the case even before the defense lawyers are able to present their rebuttal evidence on the bail proceedings. Quinsayas said the defense was given the chance to present rebuttal evidence on the bail proceedings as early as February. Curiously, defense lawyers have not presented their evidence yet.
Media groups said that while everyone wants a speedier trial, this should not come at the expense of true justice.
“The desire for speed is there, but we will not sacrifice speed if we fail in this advocacy,” said Melinda Quintos de Jesus of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, a media group helping fund the prosecution of the case.
“Speed is not the same as haste,” Quinsayas said. “There is a difference between a speedy trial and a trial done in haste.”
“Our concern is there will still be a lot of evidence that will not be presented if you rest at this point,” de Jesus added. “If the result of the trial is not satisfactory, and the families do not feel that they have won, then it will be an empty achievement of speed.”