‘Fiscals delayed massacre trial 114 times’

First published in The Philippine Star, 29 March 2014

The defense panel in the Maguindanao massacre trial has accused prosecutors of delaying court proceedings, citing 114 instances when they moved for early suspension or cancellation of scheduled proceedings.

In a 12-page counter-manifestation released yesterday, lawyer Philip Sigfrid Fortun – representing members of the Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons Andal Jr. and Zaldy – dubbed as inaccurate the prosecution’s claim that they were unfairly accused of delaying the proceedings.

“The prosecution’s current posture in disavowing fault for the delay in the completion of trial in these cases four years after they started their presentation is unacceptable,” said Fortun in the March 20 document submitted to the court.

He noted that since the start of the trial, there were 114 instances when the panel moved for continuance, had no witnesses to present, or had no substitute witnesses for those who could not be presented.

The lawyer also noted instances when the panel moved for the suspension due to miscommunication with their own witnesses or failure to comply with agreements with the defense on submission of documents to be identified by their witnesses.

“It is also important to note that a great number of the hearing dates were devoted to private complainants’ claim for damages (taboo in bail hearings), and presentation of witnesses’ whose testimonies could simply be stipulated on,” he said.

The defense lawyer was reacting to an earlier manifestation of the prosecution panel that it is ready to rest its case against Andal Jr. and 27 other accused.

In the manifestation dated March 4, the prosecutors said they were “unfairly accused of delaying the proceedings” as they are prevented from presenting their witnesses by pending motions before the court and the appellate courts.

The defense counter manifestation was filed days before Justice Secretary Leila de Lima bared disagreements between public and private prosecutors over the termination of the presentation of evidence against Andal Jr.

De Lima said Thursday private prosecutor Nena Santos – representing Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu – objected to the filing of the manifestation.

Fortun refused to comment on De Lima’s pronouncements.

The prosecution’s manifestation to terminate its presentation of witnesses was filed even as the court has yet to rule on Andal Jr.’s bail petition.

The suspects were among the 197 initial suspects tagged in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre that killed 58 people, including the wife of then Buluan vice mayor Mangudadatu. At least 32 media practitioners also died in the incident.

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