'One conviction enough as Christmas gift for kin of Maguindanao Massacre victims'

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The odds are in favor of the kin of the 58 victims of the Maguindanao Massacre as they need just one conviction to put killers behind bars, lawyer Harry Roque says.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 21) — The odds are in favor of the kin of the 58 victims of the Maguindanao Massacre as they need just one conviction to put killers behind bars, lawyer Harry Roque said.

As their 10-year wait for justice will soon come to an end, Roque said closure would be a fitting Christmas gift for the families of those slain in Ampatuan town on November 23, 2009.

"The families don’t actually expect 58 convictions. All they need is one, because one conviction is sufficient to put everyone behind bars for the rest of their lives," Roque told CNN Philippines' The Source on Thursday.

"The odds are one in 58 — I think the odds are in their favor, except that they’ve had to wait this long. I think the families want the members of the Ampatuan clan definitely to be found guilty."

Roque served as lawyer for the kin of 17 journalists part of the slain convoy, as well as two other "bystanders". The massacre has been tagged as the world's deadliest single attack against media workers, and the worst case of election-related violence in the Philippines.

Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. is the primary suspect. He was mayor of Datu Unsay town when he and his family's private armed group allegedly shot and decapitated the victims' bodies with chainsaws, which include those of civilians and members of the Mangudadatu family, their rival political clan.

READ: Mangudadatu to resign if justice not served on Maguindanao massacre victims

His brother, former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, and their father, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., are also primary suspects. The older Ampatuan died in 2015 due to complications from liver cancer.

Multiple charges have been filed against 198 accused, but barely half of them have been arrested by the police. Roque said the trial would have taken much longer if all the accused took part in the proceedings, despite their camp's call to trim the list of suspects.

Roque said the decade-long wait has been a "lifetime" for the families, dubbing the delays a "breach in the right to life."

"The only good thing arising from this Maguindanao Massacre case is a systemic and widespread reform in our criminal justice system. We cannot accept that 58 victims have to wait 10 years before they are given justice," he added.

The case was submitted for decision last August 22, giving the judge 90 days or until the third week of November to deliver the verdict. This coincides with the 10th anniversary of the mass killing, where police discovered bodies buried in a ditch by a backhoe.

The Supreme Court granted the request made by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for one more month to render a decision, which would give her until December 20 to make a ruling.

"We were hoping for a merry Christmas for the victims, although that’s rather odd that a merry Christmas would be a verdict. A merry Christmas would have been for the family of the victims to spend their Christmases with their loved ones but at least, if they can’t have that, the satisfaction of having a judgment in their favor would be a welcome Christmas gift for them," Roque said.

READ: Zero conviction in Maguindanao massacre case would mean death of press freedom, lawyer says

The lawyer and former Presidential spokesman said there have been numerous missed opportunities to fast-track the proceedings, like allowing the special court to make partial decisions that would hand out individual convictions or acquittals for each of the accused.

Around 70 of them are considered as prime suspects to the crime, who Roque said took part in the planning of the bloodbath.

Roque said he's confident that their team, together with public prosecutors, got the job done: "I'd like to think that we did our best to prove beyond reasonable doubt, but I cannot really speculate on how the court will decide."

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines said the government should swiftly resolve the case to provide some relief to the victims.

"Convictions of the perpetrators and full recompense of the victims’ families will be a first step in reversing the long and tragic injustice. The government, however, has to do much more to banish the political barbarism that engenders such attacks," the group of journalists said in a statement. "We call on officials at the highest level to take effective steps to stop all forms of attacks and intimidation against journalists. They should fulfill their core constitutional duty to protect fundamental freedoms."