The Supreme Court has already done its part in ensuring that the almost three-year-old Maguindanao massacre case gets resolved as soon as possible, according to the high court's spokesperson.
The statement of Atty. Ma. Victoria Gleoresty Guerra, chief of the SC Public Information Office, came following Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda's appeal to the high court to find ways to hasten the murder trial in light of the killings of witnesses in the past several months.
"In terms of speeding up the resolution of the cases, the Supreme Court has already mandated twice-a-week hearings and relieved Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes from hearing other cases to focus on the Maguindanao massacre case," Guerra told GMA News Online in an interview Thursday night.
In December 2010, Solis-Reyes — in an attempt to speed up the trial — started hearing the case twice a week, every Wednesdays and Thursdays. The parties also eventually agreed to prepare at least three witnesses every hearing day. More than 300 witnesses have been listed to testify in the high-profile trial.
In October 2011, things could have gone faster when the court almost ordered an additional hearing day per week.
The prosecutors, however, opposed a thrice-a-week trial, saying it takes time for them to prepare witnesses and might not be able to immediately present them at that rate. Further, they admittedhaving other cases to attend to during the other days of the week.
In June last year, the Supreme Court designated Solis-Reyes' court — Quezon City court Branch 221 — as a "special court" to exclusively hear the Maguindanao massacre case and any other cases that may arise connected to it. Reyes was also exempted from future raffling off of other cases.
Two judges had also started helping her out in handling other criminal and civil case that landed on her sala even before the Maguindanao massacre trial.
Ready to present witnesses
Guerra said the speed of the trial does not solely rely on the court, adding that the prosecution and the defense also have to chip in.
"The parties can help [speed up the trial] by making sure they are ready to present their witnesses," Guerra said.
In the past, daylong hearings would end up being suspended early when the prosecution finishes presenting witnesses scheduled on that day and have no other witnesses to take the stand.
Originally handled by a court in Mindanao, the Maguindanao massacre trial had to be transferred to Manila upon the request of relatives who feared for their security. Two and a half years into the trial, only 96 of the 196 suspects have so far been arrested.
Of the prominent members of the Ampatuan clan — said to have masterminded the attack — only two, patriarch Andal Sr. and son Andal Jr., have entered pleas. They both pleaded not guilty to 57 counts of murder. — RSJ, GMA News