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Justice still eludes the Philippines: Yet another delay in Ampatuan Massacre trial

Filipino journalists carry mock coffins symbolising massacred victims during a rally outside the presidential palace in Manila, 23 November 2012
Filipino journalists carry mock coffins symbolising massacred victims during a rally outside the presidential palace in Manila, 23 November 2012

REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

UPDATE from CMFR: Supreme Court releases guidelines to speed up Ampatuan trial (11 December 2013)

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility is a founding member of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ). It also serves as its secretariat.

Below is a 12 July 2013 statement from the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) on the delays of the Ampatuan Massacre trial.


The deferment of the arraignment of two of the principal accused in the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan town massacre adds to the already long list of delays in the judicial process that for four years have thrown one obstacle after another in the path of credibly concluding the trial of those accused. Justice for the victims is the only sign that would demonstrate to the killers of journalists and other citizens of this country that they cannot keep killing with impunity.

Sajid Islam and Akmad "Tato" of the Ampatuan clan are charged with 58 counts of murder. Sajid Islam is the son of Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. and was the Officer-in-Charge of the province of Maguindanao at the time of the massacre. Akmad "Tato" is the son-in-law of Andal Sr., who is also among the principal accused.

Sajid Islam and Akmad "Tato" were originally scheduled for arraignment on June 26, 2013. This was moved to July 3, 2013 when their defense counsel filed a motion seeking the deferment of their arraignment until their separate petitions before the Court of Appeals (CA) and the Supreme Court (SC) are resolved.

On July 2, 2013, the trial court denied the motion on the ground that the pendency of such petitions before the higher courts is not a ground for deferring arraignment.

Despite its own written order denying the motion, the trial court nevertheless granted the oral motion of the defense counsel of the two accused to have their arraignment postponed for another month. Their arraignment has been reset to August 7, 2013.

The defense counsel of Sajid Islam and Akmad "Tato" argued that for the two to be arraigned despite the pendency of their CA and SC petitions would violate their right to due process. He also claimed that the postponement will not damage or injure the People of the Philippines, the plaintiff in the 58 consolidated murder cases.

Sajid Islam and Akmad "Tato" were arrested in early December 2009 right after then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo placed Maguindanao under Martial Law. They were indicted on February 2010 for 56 counts of murder. On May 2010, they were also indicted in the 57th murder case, that involving the killing of Victor Nunez, and on June 2012 in the 58th case for the murder of Reynaldo Momay.

Like their fellow accused, both have availed of every possible legal remedy allowed under the law and the Rules of Court. They have repeatedly cited the pendency of their various petitions, motions and appeals to delay their arraignment.

Arraignment marks the completion of a court's jurisdiction over the accused, and is an important stage in the criminal proceedings. It is that part of the judicial process in which charges are read to the accused followed by his plea of guilty or not guilty. The arraignment of the accused would finally, after nearly four years, begin the equally tedious and lengthy process of presenting evidence to establish guilt.

The deferment - for the third time - of the arraignment of Sajid Islam and Akmad "Tato" will continue to delay the trial, despite the urgency of concluding it not only for the sake of justice for the families of the 58 murdered victims, but also for the People of the Philippines, for the press, and for the democracy that supposedly reigns in this land.

Ampatuan Trial Overview - Updated May 2013
Ampatuan Trial Overview - Updated May 2013

CMFR

It is part of a pattern that since 2010 has delayed the trial and is threatening to prolong it beyond the bounds of human endurance.

Zaldy Ampatuan, for example, was arraigned only in December 2012, three years after his arrest. As in the case of his other accused kin, the delay was due to the argument that he had pending petitions before the CA and the SC.

Of the eight members of the Ampatuan clan among the principal accused, only four have been arraigned. No date has been set for the arraignment of Anwar Jr. and Anwar Sajid, the grandsons of Andal Ampatuan Sr.

Members of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, a network of press freedom advocates, have long argued that the credible conclusion of the Ampatuan Massacre trial is crucial to the dismantling of the culture of impunity, and the pattern of violence in that culture that makes victims not only of journalists, but of other citizens.

For that to happen, everyone involved, most particularly the presiding judge, the prosecution and the rest of the judicial system, must be focused on concluding the trial before long, as justice demands.

We are disturbed by the trial court's decision, as we have been distressed by its and other courts' past rulings that have delayed the trial. They are indications that the judicial system has not fully appreciated the significance of the massacre trial to the press, to democracy, and to the rest of the Filipino people.

SIGNATORIES:
Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists:
Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD)
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility
Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP)
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)
Philippine Press Institute (PPI)

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