By Ali Macabalang
COTABATO CITY – Justice for the 58 victims of the Maguindanao massacre will likely be attained within this year or early 2019.
Lawyer Nena Santos told a press conference last Tuesday that relatives and supporters of the Maguindanao massacre victims led by Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu have finalized preparations for the 8th year commemoration at the massacre site in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in Ampatuan on Friday, Nov. 23.
“We’re looking at 2018 for a partial conviction in so far as the victims and the private prosecutors and the government prosecutors are concerned,” Santos said.
Santos, who went to the House of Representatives together with some relatives of the slain victims, said that in a span of eight years, 115 individuals involved in the killing have already been arrested while 81 are still at large.
Of the 115, three became state witnesses placing the actual number of the accused, arrested and arraigned at 112.
Sajid Ampatuan, former Maguindanao OIC-governor and one of main suspects, posted P11.6-million bail on March 3, 2015 while four, including former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., died in prison, said Santos.
On April 25, 2016, one was discharged as state witness while another was released on bail on May 12, 2017.
Santos said three had been acquitted after filing a demurrer to evidence.
Currently, she said, 102 of the accused are detained. The court refused to grant bail to 42 of the accused while 70 were allowed to post bail but could not afford to do so.
Santos said 108 of the total number of accused have already filed their formal offer of evidence and now, only seven of the accused will need to file such in the succeeding days.
She said government and private prosecutors were already finished with their prosecution of suspects leading up to the promulgation of a decision.
Former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., another key suspect, will present evidence of his defense next month, it was learned.
Maguindanao 2nd District Rep. Zajid Mangudadatu, who attended the press conference at the House, said he would file a resolution seeking an investigation into the slow pace of the legal proceedings.
Mangudadatu, whose sister-in-law, two sisters and other relatives alongside 32 media workers died in the 2009 massacre, appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte for his time to hear the updates regarding the cases.
Two months or so ago, former Palace spokesperson Harry Roque announced that President Duterte had instructed the government prosecution to secure court conviction within this year.
Santos expressed hope that the President will compel the Department of Justice to provide assistance to the families and the witnesses through its Witness Protection Program.
Congress, according to House reporters, had given P50 million assistance for the witnesses and the families of the victims in 2010.