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Ampatuan Massacre trial: Private prosecutors oppose resting case

UPDATE from CMFR: Private prosecutor: resting in 'evidence-in-chief' does not reflect 'first in, first out' principle (4 August 2014)

State prosecutors handling the Ampatuan Massacre Trial are pushing through with their decision to rest in presenting evidence-in-chief, despite opposition from three private prosecutors who say the move is premature and could lead to a mistrial.

On 28 February 2014, state prosecutors manifested in court their intention to rest their case in both the bail petitions and the evidence-in-chief for 28 accused and said they were disinclined to present additional evidence against all the accused.

State prosecutors said resting in evidence-in-chief will speed up the trial by immediately moving the trial to the defense's presentation of rebuttal evidence especially since the Supreme Court allowed separate trials for the accused in December 2013.

Attorney Nena Santos said that in a meeting between private and state prosecutors early this July, she said that she would oppose in open court the state prosecutors' move to rest in evidence-in-chief (evidence to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt) against a number of the accused, including the alleged masterminds of the Massacre.

Santos represents the families of 25 massacre victims, including Maguindanao provincial governor Esmael Mangudadatu, husband of victim Genalyn Mangudadatu and political rival of the Ampatuan family.

Two other private prosecutors, Maria Gemma J. Oquendo and Prima Quinsayas, also expressed their opposition.

"The private prosecutors should have been consulted first, since we were the ones directly involved in looking for pieces of evidence and eye-witnesses from the start of case building," Oquendo said. "We were not involved in the decision-making; we were merely informed about it."

Oquendo lawyers for her father, Catalino P. Oquendo, and sister, Cynthia Oquendo-Ayon, both of whom were killed in the massacre. Cynthia was a lawyer for the Mangudadatu family.

Meanwhile, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists Inc. (FFFJ), the organization for which Quinsayas represents the families of 17 victims of the massacre, released a statement in May 2014 saying that "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 (Department of Justice) panel cares little about the quantum of evidence required to secure conviction."

CMFR serves as FFFJ's secretariat.

Quinsayas has not completed her part of the prosecution's Formal Offer of Evidence (FOE) in evidence-in-chief. Asked why she has not completed her part, she said some of the private complainants are having difficulties in securing original or certified true copies of certain documents. Quinsayas also feels she has no reason to rush the private complainants.

"I believe resting in the bail proceedings against the 70 accused who filed separate petitions for bail in the 58 cases should be the priority, instead of resting simultaneously in bail and evidence-in-chief, which is unprocedural," Quinsayas said.

The judge hearing the trial, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, told the state prosecutors during a hearing on 12 March 2014 that "Under the rules, the petition for bail must first be resolved before the evidence-in-chief," and that the petition for bail will only be resolved after the defense presents rebuttal evidence.

Judge Solis-Reyes ordered the state prosecutors to instead rest their case only for those accused who have waived presenting rebuttal evidence.

Quinsayas added that the part of private complainants in the FOE is not necessary to rest in bail proceedings. State prosecutors have given her and other private prosecutors only until the end of July 2014 to comply.
Other private prosecutors whose parts in the FOE are not yet done are attorneys Harry Roque, Rachel Pastores, Francis Principe and Oquendo.

The Ampatuan Massacre prosecution team has been adopting evidence they presented in the bail petition hearings as evidence-in-chief.

After presentation of prosecution evidence in opposition to bail, the accused have the option to present rebuttal evidence in support of their petitions for bail.

Bail granted means there is no strong evidence of guilt. And if the prosecution rests in evidence-in-chief, they would no longer be allowed to present additional evidence in the trial proper after the bail petitions have been resolved.

One public prosecutor pointed out that they can still present rebuttal evidence. Oquendo claimed this is limited to rebuttal of evidence presented by the accused. Evidence not deemed a rebuttal of defense evidence will not be admitted.

"You will not be allowed to present evidence that does not answer defense evidence. And we don't know yet what the defense will present," Oquendo said.

Santos for her part said, "We have many remaining witnesses. But why public prosecutors do not want to present them (in case bail is granted) is mind boggling to us."

The multiple murder trial, now less than six months away from its fifth year, is still in the mixed stage of hearing the separate bail petitions of 70 accused and the trial proper for those accused who did not file a petition for bail.

Though murder is a non-bailable crime, the Philippine Rules of Criminal Procedure give the accused the right to bail if the prosecution cannot prove that there is strong evidence of guilt.

The murder complaints originally named 197 people as conspiring and carrying out the massacre of 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists and media workers, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, on 23 November 2009. The incident has been called the single bloodiest attack on journalists in history.

Only 111 have been arrested to date, of which 110 have been arraigned.

The accused include alleged masterminds Zaldy Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan Jr., the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor, and Datu Unsay, town mayor at the time of the massacre, respectively, and their father, clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., former governor of Maguindanao province.

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