MANILA – A Philippine senator who is a veteran human rights lawyer has expressed apprehension that the trial of the infamous Maguindanao massacre might take 200 years to finish because of the huge number of accused and witnessed involved.
“The Department of Justice filed a case against 161 defendants with 300 witnesses. The trial will be very long,” Sen. Joker Arroyo told radio station DZRH here Sunday.
Arroyo, one of the lawyers of slain Philippine Sen. Benigno S. Aquino Jr. and as executive secretary of the late President Corazon C. Aquino, cited his own experience when he was also one of the defense counsels of 50 accused in the landing of thousands of high-powered firearms on aboard the ship M/V Karagatan by rebels of the New People’s Army (NPA) in 1974 but until now the case has not been decided.
“It was still martial law then. The case against Joma Sison, Satur Ocampo and 48 others were filed before a military commission in 1974. The EDSA Revolution came in 1986 and the prosecution was not yet finished,” Arroyo said.
The case was tried by a military commission formed by then President Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Arroyo recalled that the military commission did not countenance any dilatory tactic like in civil courts, yet even that celebrated case has not been concluded.
Yet, Arroyo said “only 50 defendants were involved in the MV Karagatan case. With 161 defendants and 300 witnesses involved in the Maguindanao massacre, the hearing of the case might take 200 years to finish.”
Under the law each of the 161 defendants has the right to cross-examine each of the 300 witnesses.
“The judge could order a hearing every day and it would still take a long time to finish it. And what will happen to the other cases being handled by the judge?” Arroyo added.
He expressed the hope that the prosecution will find a way speed up the trial of the Maguindanao case.
The trial of the multiple murders known as the Maguindanao massacre was delayed anew last week a Regional Trial Court trying the case granted a motion filed by principal accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. to defer hearings until the court ruled on pending motions of respondents.
The trial of Andal Jr. and the other suspects has been on hold since February, with defense lawyers filing a number of motions that have delayed the start of court hearings. The hearing will resume on Wednesday (Sept. 8).
The Maguindanao massacre has shocked the world when over 100 gunmen shot and killed 57 people, including 32 journalists in a broad daylight multiple murder in Maguindanao province in southern Philippines on Nov. 23, 2009.