By Chito Chavez
A Quezon City court has dismissed the appeal of Maguindanao massacre case principal accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the setting of additional hearing dates for the presentation of his sur-rebuttal witnesses in connection with the 58 counts of murder cases filed against him.
In a three-page order, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 denied the urgent motion to cancel hearing with motion for additional trial dates to present sur-rebuttal evidence filed by accused’s lawyer, Ernest Levanza for lack of merit.
Records showed that during the hearing last June 26, instead of presenting additional sur-rebuttal witnesses for the accused, the Ampatuan camp filed the said motion asking the court to cancel the hearing and, instead, set it to other dates in order for them to present their witnesses.
In his motion, Levanza said that they intend to present three additional witnesses who will shed light as to the truth regarding the circumstances surrounding the alleged “Sinumpaang Salaysay (sworn statement)” dated Jan. 17, 2019 of Thonti Lawani and other matters in connection with the case.
However, Ampatuan’s lawyer claimed that he was having difficulty coordinating with the individuals to be presented as witnesses due to their reluctance to take the witness stand, citing fear for their lives and that of their respective families.
Levanza added the nature of the testimonies of the intended witnesses are similar to that of Lawani and Lagiundin Alfonso who were likewise witnesses for the prosecution.
In their motion, Levanza wanted the court to hold additional hearings for their presentation of their sur-rebuttal witnesses on Aug. 14, 15, 28 and 29 for the interest of justice.
The prosecution represented by State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas opposed the motion claiming that the motion will cause further delay in the proceedings and the resolution of the cases.
Besides, the prosecution argued the court had already given the accused opportune time to present his witnesses after it granted his motions of allowing him to present additional witnesses before it will resolve the cases.
Based on the April 26, 2019 and May 10, 2019 orders of the court granting the motions of Ampatuan, the latter was warned that no further motion which will result in the resetting of the presentation of the accused’s sur-rebuttal evidence shall be entertained by the court.
It was also stated in said orders that failure on the part of the accused to present his witnesses, is tantamount to the accused waiving his right to present them.
In denying the latest motion of the accused, Reyes said the contention of the accused in the motion that the testimonies of the intended witnesses similar to that of Lawani and Alfonso, who were earlier presented at the witness stand as sur-rebuttal witnesses, can be dispensed of for only being corroborative in nature.
Reyes cited a similar case wherein the Supreme Court held that testimonies of other witnesses may be dispensed with if they are merely corroborative in nature.
“Due to the failure of the accused to present additional witnesses, he is deemed to have waived his right to present further sur-rebuttal evidence and his motion is denied,” as further stated in the order.
Following the denial of the motion, Reyes ordered the accused through his counsel to submit within five days his Formal Offer of Sur-Rebuttal Evidence within which the prosecution is also given the same period to file its comment.
The court also ordered that once an order was already issued on the accused’s Formal Offer of Sur-Rebuttal Evidence, both parties will be given 20 days to file their respective memorandum.
Once submission of said memorandum, the cases will be then deemed submitted for resolution.