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The justice we seek: Philippines media groups on the Ampatuan Massacre trial

Below is a statement from the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) on the manifestation of the state prosecution panel in the Ampatuan Massacre trial to rest in their presentation of evidence in both the bail proceedings and evidence-in-chief against 28 accused and their disinclination to present additional evidence against those already arraigned.

Last 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 Development
Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility
Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Philippine Press Institute

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