Wednesday was a very busy day for the protection of human rights and the fight against impunity. It started with the resumption of hearing in the Ampatuan massacre in a make-shift court house in Bicutan, Taguig. Prior to yesterday, the victims manifested their disturbance and distraught at the fact that despite an agreement reached by the prosecution and the defense that the first day of the hearing on the merits was supposed to be last September 1, that day came and without the agreed hearing actually taking place. We were thus praying that the process would finally commence after the lapse of 10 long months since the massacre occured. And the yes, our prayers were granted. Finally, the prosecution presented yesterday its first witness, the testimony of Lakmudin Saliao alias “Lock”, a former houseboy of the Ampatuans. His testimony was important not only because he was the first witness to take the stand on the trial on the merits of the case, but also because he testified that Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr and ARRM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan participated in the planning of the massacre. Previously, former Justice Secretary Agra ordered the dismissal of the charges against these two Ampatuans because of lack of evidence. The public outcry that met such a dismissal compelled the former Justice Secretary to reconsider his earlier decision. This latter decision is now on appeal with the Court of Appeals. Lock’s testimony about the involvement of the father and son is the first judicially recorded evidence of their involvement in the massacre. We intend to submit a copy of his testimony to the Court of Appeals that is hearing Ampatuan Sr and Zaldy Ampatuans’s respective appeals questioning the second order of former Secretary Agra ordering their inclusion anew as accused in the pending multiple murder cases.
What was even more startling was Lock’s testimony that Andal Ampatuan Sr agreed to surrender his son, Ampatuan Jr., only to the custody of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This was particularly interesting for us since we were the only ones who manifested during the pre-trial of the case our intent to subpoena the former president as a hostile witness to explain the sense of impunity by which the massacre was perpetrated. The testimony yesterday was the first indication of what we have known all along, that the Ampatuans and former President Arroyo shared a “special bond”. We are raring to find out what this special bond is all about and why it exists.
Although the victims were relieved that the process had finally begun, they are also mindful of the reality, as mentioned by Senator Joker Arroyo, that unless special initiatives are resorted to, the trial can take up to 200 years to finish. Well, the hearing yesterday took more than 3 hours and it was still rescheduled for continuance on September 15. Senator Arroyo’s words may prove prophetic considering that both the prosecution and the accused have manifested that they will present 500 witnesses. This, plus the fact that there are 196 accused and 58 counts or a total of 11,368 cases currently being heard by the RTC, may ensure the trial will in fact take a very long time to finish. Accordingly, we have formally proposed to Secretary Leila De Lima and the panel of public prosecutors to petition the Supreme Court to designate the sala of Judge Solis-Reyes as a special court that will hear only the Ampatuan massacre case. It is our suggestion that Judge Solis-Reyes should be divested of all her other pending cases so that she can conduct daily marathon hearings on this massacre. We also proposed that in addition, the Supreme Court should apply the procedure on continuous trial to the trial of the massacre to ensure the speedy and uninterrupted introduction of evidence. It is only through this means that we can hope to finish the trial of the case, hopefully during the administration of P Noy.
In the afternoon, we rushed to the Department of Justice for the first preliminary hearing of the torture case that ABS-CBN broadcasted last month. For the first time, the wife of the torture victim, whom we will still refer to as “Anna”, appeared publicly to subscribe to her complaint affidavit. Likewise, the father of the torture victim, together with three witnesses and the two CIDG personnel who investigated the case, also subscribed before Public Prosecutor Allen Quimpo the truth and veracity of matters stated in their affidavits. The defense lawyers objected to the playing of the torture video on the ground that they were not furnished with copies of the same. Just to preclude a long and winding debate on the matter, we agreed to defer the showing of the video to the 16th of September. We also requested that the prosecutor to subpoena ABS-CBN to bring in the next hearing the original of the video that was given to them by their source so that the parties can compare it with the copy submitted by the CIDG to the DOJ.
I attended the two hearings only a day after I submitted my chapter on a help book to be published by the Philippine Judicial Academy on the Investigation and Prosecution of extralegal killings and enforced disappearances in the country. My chapter was written for the benefit of both public and private prosecutors. On the scope of the obligation to investigate breaches of the right to life, it is noteworthy to emphasize that the scope of this state obligation is not just to conduct preliminary investigations and even trials for these cases. Instead, it is a duty to the state to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators thereof. In other words, while our rules require private complaining parties to submit evidence to prove the commission of a crime, international law nonetheless mandates where there is a violation of the right to life, it is the state itself that is duty bound to ensure that the perpetrators are in fact punished under its domestic law. I find it sad thus that civil society in the Philippine today has had to take on the burden of punishing those who will violate the right to life when this is primarily a duty of the state. But again, as we say in UP, kung hindi tayo, sino pa; kung di ngayon, kailan pa? #30#