By Rey Panaligan
The Court of Appeals (CA) has affirmed its decision which disallowed the use as state witnesses three of those charged in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 58 persons died, most of them journalists.
Disallowed as state witnesses were Police Insp. Rex Ariel Diongon, Police Officer 1 (PO1) Rainier Ebus and Mohammad Sangki.
The CA decision upheld the ruling issued by Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes who declared that the use of Diongon, Ebus and Sangki as state witnesses was not necessary.
It agreed with the findings of the trial court that the testimonies of the three accused are substantially the same with other witnesses like Raul Sangki, Norodin Zailon Mauyag, Akmad Abubakar Esmael and Lakmodin Saliao.
“It must be emphasized that the RTC may still reconsider the discharge of accused Mohammad Sangki, PO1 Ranier Ebus, and P/Insp. Rex Ariel Diongon once all the prosecution’s witnesses have been presented and there is absolute necessity for the testimonies of the aforementioned accused,” the CA noted.
With the CA ruling contained in the resolution written by Associate Justice Ramon Cruz, the appellate court denied the motion for partial reconsideration filed by government prosecutors.
“The arguments raised by petitioner in its motion have already been judiciously considered before we rendered our judgment, as these were among the issues presented in the petition. The motion has not raised any new substantial legitimate ground or reason which would warrant a modification, much less, a reversal of our decision,” the CA ruled.
It said the decision on whether or not an accused can be utilized as state witness depends solely on the trial court judge handling the case, particularly when the accused have been arraigned and the judge has gained jurisdiction over them.
Fifty-eight persons, most of them journalists, died in Barangay Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
Those killed were part of a convoy that was to accompany the registration of then Buluan town Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu for the 2010 gubernatorial election.
In its update issued late last year on the trial of those accused in the Maguindanao massacre, the Supreme Court said:
“People of the Philippines versus Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr. et al. Q-09-162148-72, Q-09-162216-31, Q-10-162652-66, Q-10-163766, GL-Q-12-178638.
“These murder cases account for 58 victims (out of the 58 victims, 32 were alleged to be media practitioners), originally involving 197 accused (15 surnamed Ampatuans), with 115 already arrested (latest accused arrested is Jonathan Engid on February 28, 2017), including one whose cases were dismissed as against him for lack of probable cause.
“One already dropped from the (Amended) Informations by virtue of a Joint Order dated February 13, 2013 and Order dated November 5, 2013,2 two discharged as state witnesses.
“Four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan, Sr. died while in detention.
“Most recently, 4 of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the Court. Thus, from those arraigned, only 103 accused remain on trial.
“The proceedings are being actively attended by 10 lawyers that comprise the third Panel of Public Prosecutors, 8 private prosecutors, and 23 defense lawyers/firms.
“The transcripts of stenographic notes have now reached 59 volumes, while the records of the cases are 129 volumes thick, plus 10 volumes of prosecution’s evidence.
“As of November 21, 2017, the Court has already heard a total of 273 witnesses: 166 prosecution witnesses, and 107 defense witnesses. The Court has resolved all the 15 sets of formal offer of evidence (FOE) in connection with the bail applications of 70 accused.
“It has likewise resolved all bail applications of the accused, including that of accused Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan, Jr., which was denied on May 31, 2017. The Motion for Reconsideration filed by said accused was already denied by the Court in its Order dated June 16, 2017.
“The prosecution has already finished the presentation of evidence in the main cases against all of the accused, save for Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr. Considering that the bail proceedings against him was already terminated, the Court is now awaiting for the Manifestation to be filed by the prosecution with respect to their Formal Offer of Evidence insofar as accused Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. is concerned.
“Eight batches of FOEs have already been filed in Court. Seven of these FOEs have been resolved by the Court on the following dates: June 15, 2016 (1st FOE), November 14, 2016 (2nd FOE), December 12, 2016 (3rd FOE), February 9, 2017 (4th FOE) and September 18, 2017 (5th, 6th, and 7th FOEs).
“It is already the turn of the accused to present their evidence-in-chief. Thirty one (31) accused have already concluded the presentation of their evidence. Thirty four (34) more accused are currently presenting their respective defense evidence-in-chief.”