By Rey Panaligan
The decision on the celebrated 2009 Maguindanao massacre is expected to be out before Christmas after the Supreme Court (SC) gave Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of the Quezon City regional trial court (RTC) a non-extendible 30 days to resolve the case.
Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta, in a meeting on Friday (November 8) morning with journalists covering the SC, said Judge Reyes’ plea for one-month extension to decide the cases was granted by the High Court.
“This office finds the ground for your request reasonable and hereby grants the same. Please be reminded, however, that you are hereby granted a non-extendible period of 30 days from 20 November 2018, or until 20 December 2019, within which to decide the said criminal cases,” a memorandum sent to Judge Reyes by Court Administrator Jose Midas P. Marquez stated.
Based on the memorandum, Reyes requested an extension because of the voluminous records involved in the cases – 165 volumes of records of proceedings, 65 volumes of transcripts of stenographic notes, and eight volumes of prosecution’s documentary evidence.
Fifty-eight persons died in Barangal Salman in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, on Nov. 23, 2009 in the incident now known as the Maguindanao massacre.
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.
Multiple murder cases were filed against 197 accused. The trial of the case eventually landed in the sala of Judge Reyes for security concerns.
Under the rules, Judge Reyes should resolve the cases on or before Nov. 20, 2019 or 90 days after they were submitted for resolution last August.
But Reyes, in a plea submitted to the SC, requested a 30-day extension to resolve the cases, move granted by the SC.
Chief Justice Peralta said “the Constitution provides that all trial courts should promulgate their decision within the 90-day period” (from the time the case is submitted for decision).
“In the case of Judge Reyes, you know very well that there are so many accused and there are so many victims in that case. We also allow meritorious motion for extension and we understand her predicament and we allowed her to have an extension of one month,” Peralta said.
“As I said motions for extension are the exception rather than the rule. We understand her plight and I hope that she will no longer ask for another extension so that before the end of the year those cases will finally be decided,” he added.
In an effort to explain Judge Reyes’ predicament, Peralta said:
“I am frustrated of what happened to the victims. But I think Judge Reyes did her best to give justice to the victims and to afford the accused the required due process of law under the Constitution.
“I was a fiscal and a trial court judge. This is my first time to hear cases involving so many victims. I think in the last century I have yet to hear cases involving massacre of so many people.
“The accused are all entitled to what we call due process. We adopted several ways in order to fast-track the resolution of cases. It is good that the parties agreed to these tools that were adopted by Judge Reyes in order to resolve the cases, as early as possible.”
Earlier, Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra had hoped that the decision on the Maguindanao massacre cases be handed down before the incident’s 10th anniversary on November 23.
On the request for a 30-day extension to resolve, Guevarra said “we shall leave this matter to the sound discretion of the Supreme Court, but we really hope that the good judge would be able to promulgate her decision sooner than later.”