[In the Web] Glacial pace of Maguindanao Massacre trial

Justice for Victims of Ampatuan Massacre. Image from http://newscoreonline.blogspot.com.

Big Deal

by Dan Mariano

Up until the last three years of her presidency, Gloria M. Arroyo was able to “manage” her relations with the media. Some journalists were perhaps impressed with her administration’s economic performance and genuinely wished it success; others were placated with the usual accommodations and sinecures that government officials have long plied press-card holders in this country.
The relations began to sour, however, following the 2005 “Hello, Garci” scandal and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege when dozens of journalists were flex-cuffed by police just because they were covering the incident.

In addition, the flurry of libel suits filed by GMA administration figures—including then-first gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo and then-GSIS boss Winston Garcia—against reporters, editors, publishers, commentators and columnists further convinced the Fourth Estate that Mrs. Arroyo and her underlings despised the free media and would like nothing better than to silence critics in newspapers, TV, radio and the Internet.

Few, however, suspected that some quarters close to her had planned to silence pesky journalists literally, permanently and in such devastating fashion.

As hostile and contemptuous as GMA was toward the news media, even her most rabid detractors could not imagine that the massacre of 58 people—mostly media workers—in Maguindanao could ever take place in this country. But the alleged butchers were led by a political warlord whom she had relied on to manipulate election results.

Were it not for their political partnership with GMA, would the Ampatuans have been so emboldened as to even contemplate such an atrocity—and believe that they could get away with?

There were signs that soon after word of the November 23, 2009 killings reached Manila the then-president had tried to shield the Ampatuans. When it became obvious that a cover-up had become impossible, the GMA administration dragged its feet in prosecuting the alleged killers—so much so that to this day the case is still pending.

The case is being heard by a supposedly special court that continues to operate in the usual snail’s pace of ordinary tribunals. The Supreme Court is still under the sway of GMA appointees who apparently regard her with fondness—or more.

No wonder then that the leadership of the judiciary seems perfectly willing to let the so-called special court to just muddle along in the face of the widespread outrage, both here and abroad, that the Maguindanao massacre drew.

Court rules
The cadence of the court case has been so glacial that legal experts, like former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., see the trial dragging on for another year or two—“unless a miracle happens.”

In a recent statement coursed through the Pimentel Center for Local Governance, Nene noted: “As of last week, the prosecution and the defense panels were reportedly squabbling over the number of days every week that should be set aside for the trial of the case.”

The trial judge had reportedly set two days a week for the hearing of the case. A defense lawyer suggested that one more day be added to the weekly trial dates. “Surprisingly, a prosecutor reportedly retorted that another day would be unacceptable because she had other cases to attend to,” Pimentel said.

Pimentel observed that “the speedy justice that the Bill of Rights of the Constitution guarantees to litigants, especially, in criminal cases is being cast aside for the comfort and convenience of the legal panels.”

He clarified, however: “By no means is the judge handling the case being blamed for the delays in the trial of the case. From afar, it looks like the judge, who is a lady, is evenhanded.”

The traditionally laidback dispensation of justice in this country has marked even the Ampatuan trial, giving rise to suggestions for the adoption of a jury system.


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