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"Special court" designated to handle Ampatuan massacre case

(CMFR/IFEX) - The Supreme Court of the Philippines named the court branch handling the Ampatuan massacre case a "special court" on 28 June 2011.

In its resolution, the Supreme Court en banc granted the petition filed by the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC) and Alyansa ng Filipino Mamamahayag (Alliance of Filipino Journalists, AFIMA) asking that Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City (QC RTC) be named "a special court which should have no duties other than the trial of the Maguindanao massacre cases."

"The Regional Trial Court Branch 221 of Quezon City is also granted full authority to resolve any matter and issue which may arise from said cases, including issues cognizable by other special courts, without need of further designation by this Court," the resolution read.

The High Court also approved the current policy being implemented by the Executive Judge of QC RTC, which exempts Branch 221 from any raffle of new cases. The High Court said the QC RTC's exemption from raffles will continue "until the presiding judge decides the aforementioned cases or upon further orders from this Court."

Designated assisting judges will handle other cases already pending before QC RTC Branch 221, the High Court said, adding that the assisting judges were assigned earlier pursuant to Administrative Order Nos. 19-2010, 54-2010 and 150-2010.

According to the 28 June resolution, both the Department of Justice and the defence lawyers agreed to the designation of QC RTC Branch 221 as a special court. "All parties called for the speedy disposition of the case by conducting daily marathon hearings, citing material factors such as the large number of accused, victims and witnesses involved in the trial, as compelling reasons."

The resolution quoted Andal Ampatuan Jr.'s comment which said "(Ampatuan Jr.) had already previously invoked his right to a speedy trial and the early resolution of the cases filed against him during the preliminary investigation conducted by the Department of Justice."

On 14 June, the Supreme Court allowed, with conditions and without establishing the ruling as a precedent, live coverage of hearings on the multiple murder case filed against Ampatuan Jr. and 195 others accused in the killing of 57 people on 23 November 2009. The Public Information Office of the Supreme Court conducted a test live webcast of the 28 June hearing.

In other news relating to the massacre cases, the Court of Appeals (CA) in Manila extended until 2 December 2011 the order it issued freezing the assets and bank accounts of 28 Ampatuan clan members and their supporters. This was the second time the appellate court extended the freeze order.

The CA Special Second Division, in a 67-page resolution, dismissed the motions filed by the Ampatuans to lift the 6 June freeze order.

"The efficacy of the freeze order is extended up to 2 December 2011 or for a period not exceeding six (6) months, from 6 June 2011, pursuant to Section 53(b) of A.M. No. 05-11-04-SC. Let the records of this case be transmitted to the Regional Trial Court for consolidation with any pending civil forfeiture proceedings, in accordance with Section 56 of AM. No. 05-11-04-SC" the resolution read, as quoted in the news.

The 6 June freeze order was issued based on a request from the Anti-money Laundering Council (AMLC).

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