The Supreme Court has granted the request of Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for a one-month extension to resolve the decade-old Maguindanao massacre case, in which more than 190 respondents are accused of killing 58 people on Nov. 23, 2009.
“There are so many accused and victims. We allowed her to have an extension of one month. We hope she won’t ask for another,” Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said Friday in his first press conference as top magistrate.
Reyes submitted the case for decision in August after conducting a trial for over 10 years. Once a case is submitted for resolution, a judge has 90 days to set its promulgation.
In the Maguindanao massacre case, that date should fall on this month, but Reyes wrote the Supreme Court asking for a 30-day extension because of the voluminous records that needed to be studied.
Peralta acknowledged the complexity of the case where the judge has to afford each of the accused a fair trial and due process.
“I was a fiscal, I was a judge. This is my first time to hear of cases involving so many victims. I think in the last century, I have yet to hear cases involving the massacre of so many people. The accused are all entitled to due process,” Peralta said, when asked if he was disappointed that the trial of the case dragged on for a decade.
“But we adopted several ways to fasttrack the resolution of cases. It’s good that the parties agreed to these tools that were adopted by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes in order to as early as possible resolve the cases,” the chief justice said.
“I am frustrated by what happened to the victims. But I think Judge Reyes did her best in order to give justice to the victims and also in order to afford the accused the required due process of law under the Constitution,” he further said.
Court Administrator Jose Midas Marquez said he has already communicated to Reyes the decision to grant her request for an extension.
“This office finds the ground for your request reasonable and hereby grants the same,” Marquez said in a memorandum to Reyes.
“Please be reminded, however, that you are hereby granted a non-extendible period of 30 days from 20 November 2019, or until 20 December 2019, within which to decide the said criminal cases.”
The Office of the Court Administrator required Reyes to submit to Marquez a copy of the decision of the Maguindanao massacre case within 10 days of its promulgation “as proof of your compliance with your undertaking to decide the cases within the period requested.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier said that while it is up to the Supreme Court to decide on the request for an extension, he is still hoping that the Quezon City RTC would render its judgment sooner.
Reyes has not yet set a date for the promulgation of the case.
Reyes submitted the case for decision in August and had until Nov. 22 to promulgate the case.
Since her request for a month-long extension was granted, she will now have until Dec. 22 to render a decision.
Reports indicated that Reyes sought more time because of the case’s voluminous records. Since the trial began in January 2010, the case has accumulated 165 volumes of pleadings and other documents.
There are 197 suspects who were initially charged for the killing of 58 people including 32 media practitioners.
A total of 117 people have been arrested including prominent members of the Ampatuan clan. Seven of them died while in detention, including former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr.
Charges against nine others have been dropped, including the three who were allowed to become state witnesses. Eleven of them are out on bail, while 80, including Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr., remain at large.
Private prosecutors expressed disappointment over the 30-day extension but said they would respect the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It is saddening but I am sure the [chief] justice has a reason for the extension period,” lawyer Nena Santos told the Manila Standard.
“Okay, we respect that,” former Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said.
But he lamented that after the trial dragged on for 10 years, the relatives of the victims must now wait 30 more days.
“They can wait a further [delay of] 30 days. But it is wrong that it took this long. The Maguindanao massacre trial should trigger systemic changes in our justice system. We should revert to the inquisitorial system where judges procure the evidence from lawyers after defining the issues. Clearly, the current adversarial system where lawyers offer evidence is just too long!” he said.
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