Supreme Court gives QC judge one more month to decide on Maguindanao massacre case

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The Supreme Court gives more time for a Quezon City court to decide on the decade-old case involving the gruesome mass killing in Maguindanao.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 8) — The Supreme Court granted a Quezon City court judge more time to decide on the 10-year-old Maguindanao Massacre case, Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta said Friday.

The high court approved a 30-day extension for Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to rule on the case, which involves the killing of 58 people — including 32 media workers — on November 23, 2009.

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.

Solis-Reyes asked for a one-month extension from the SC on her deadline to decide on the case, citing 238 volumes of records and evidence which she needs to consider. A 30-day extension gives her until December 20 to render a decision, according to the letter response sent by Court Administrator Midas Marquez on Thursday. The deadline is "non-extendible."

Peralta said he "understands the predicament" of the judge, adding that he has not seen any other case with so many accused and victims involved.

"I'm frustrated with what happened to the victims, but I think Judge Jocelyn (Solis) did her best in order to give justice to the victims and also in order to afford the accused with due process of law under the Constitution," Peralta said in his first press briefing on Friday.

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 family.

Earlier this month, the judge denied the request of Ampatuan to reopen the trial as he claimed that a witness will retract his testimony.

A total of 104 individuals faced trial, including Ampatuan's brother, former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. Their father, Andal Ampatuan, Sr., was also a primary suspect before he died in 2015 due to complications from liver cancer. The case is pending before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221.

The Maguindanao 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.

Peralta said he will prioritize resolving case backlogs in the entire Judiciary, citing thousands of unresolved cases pending before the SC down to the local courts. He vowed to automate court protocols and tap digital technology to speed up court proceedings.

He also bared plans to keep a 24/7 help desk at the Office of the Chief Justice to keep communication lines open to the public.

Nena Santos, lawyer of the families Maguindanao massacre kin, said they can bear waiting a little bit longer for the verdict: "We have waited for 10 years, the 30 days is a short time to wait." Former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who also served as a lawyer for some of the victims' families, said the long-delayed decision "should trigger systemic changes in our justice system."

Separately, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security said it expects the judge's ruling to be "worth the wait" for families, with Executive Director Undersecretary Jose Joel Sy Egco adding that the Christmas break for courts could even fast-track the release of the ruling.

“Without pre-empting the outcome, I am optimistic that the families of the victims will finally get the justice that they have been waiting for the last decade,” Egco said in a statement.