Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday expressed optimism for the resolution of the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre by next year.
“We believe we can wind up the trial of this case this year and we are hoping that by 2019 a decision will be rendered by the court,” he said in an interview with CNN Philippines.
Guevarra said the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, where 197 accused are standing trial for the killing of 58 people, is “now winding up with the trial of this case.”
The secretary said he is hoping a court decision will be made next year on the Maguindanao massacre case.
“There are just five remaining accused who are presenting evidence,” he said.
It was found that the cases against the accused, led by former Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., are now in three final stages.
As of last November, the RTC has already heard a total of 273 witnesses—166 prosecution witnesses, and 107 defense witnesses.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has granted the request of the Department of Justice to transfer the venue for the Mamapasano case to the Taguig City Regional Trial Court.
“Because of the possible security issues, we requested, or we asked the Supreme Court that the venue for the trial of those cases be transferred to Metro Manila and the Supreme Court recently granted that petition,” Guevarra said.
“These cases will be tried before the Regional Trial Court in Taguig,” he added.
The DoJ last year asked the SC to transfer the case to Metro Manila for security reasons.
In the Maguindanao case, the Court has resolved all 15 sets of a formal offer of evidence in connection with the bail applications of 70 accused. It has likewise resolved all bail applications of the accused, including that of Ampatuan Jr., which was denied last May.
The RTC may render judgment separately on each accused and not wait for all the accused to finish presenting their evidence.
Four of the accused, including clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., died while in detention, while four of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the trial court.
The murder cases involve 58 victims (including 32 media practitioners), 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuans), and 115 already arrested, the latest being Jonathan Engid, who was arrested last February.
The proceedings are being actively attended by a panel of 10 public prosecutors, eight private prosecutors, and 23 defense lawyers and firms. The transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 59 volumes, while the records of the cases are 129 volumes thick, plus 10 volumes of prosecution’s evidence.
In the Mamasapano case, 67 people, including 44 Special Action Force troopers, were killed in a botched police operation to capture terrorist and bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir alias “Marwan” in January 2015. Marwan was among those killed.
Also, 88 people—composed of Moro rebels and members of private armed groups—face charges of direct assault with murder over the deaths of 35 SAF troopers before the Shariff Aguak Maguindanao Regional Trial Court Branch 15.