Maguindanao massacre case resolution early 2019 — DOJ

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 22) — Ahead of the ninth anniversary of the gruesome massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao, the Justice Department said the case may be decided in the first half next year.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Wednesday they will finally close the cases against the Ampatuan family, the alleged perpetrators of the attack on November 23, 2009.

"We could have done it faster… but there were certain factors beyond our control,  so many accused, so many witnesses too. Anyway, we are winding up now, and we expect a decision hopefully within the first half of 2019," Guevarra told CNN Philippines in a text message.

The government has filed cases against Ampatuan family members and their supporters involved in the killings. Guevarra said the trial pace could have been improved, but some factors beyond their control delayed the proceedings. In June, he had said the trial would end by yearend.

Malacañang also acknowledged the slow trial but said the Justice Department is doing its job.

"Many cases take so long. But what's important to us is justice will prevail. The Justice Department is doing its job to speed up the case," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Thursday.

The Justice Department previously charged 188 persons out of 197 initially accused. The primary suspect was the Ampatuan patriarch, Andal Sr. He succumbed to liver cancer while in detention in 2015.

The victims were members of the Mangudadatu family, the political rival of the Ampatuan clan, 32 media workers and some civilians. Their bodies were dumped in a shallow grave in Ampatuan town.

The Mangudadatu family released a statement Thursday expressing relief for the possible resolution of the case.

"We meet this news with renewed vigor and relief for we have waited too long and have given so much to the case over the years," the statement read.

The family said they are confident justice will be served on Andal Ampatuan Jr., the principal suspect.

"We have full confidence that the evidence presented is enough to prove Dati Unsay's guilt beyond reasonable doubt and we await the verdict with cautious hope," the statement read.

The killing happened as 15 relatives of then Maguindanao gubernatorial bet  Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, accompanied by a media convoy, were on their way to file his candidacy in the 2010 elections. Mangudadatu is current Maguindanao governor.