CA bars use of 3 Maguindanao massacre suspects as state witnesses

MANILA -- The Court of Appeals upheld its decision on May 2015 to disallow three of those accused in the Maguindanao massacre case to be state witnesses.

In a six-page resolution dated July 10 penned by Associate Justice Ramon Cruz and concurred by Associate Justices Franchito Diamante and Amy Lazaro-Javier, the CA's Former Special Thirteenth Division denied the partial motion for reconsideration filed by government prosecutors to turn Police Insp. Rex Ariel Diongon, PO1 Rainier Ebus and Mohammad Sangki into state witnesses.

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 their 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 resolution read.

The CA, in its May 27, 2015 decision, upheld the order issued by Quezon City RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, who is presiding over the trial of the Maguindanao massacre case, denying the motion of the Department of Justice.

The CA earlier explained that the DOJ should have already excluded the three from its amended list of respondents if it really intended to discharge them as witnesses, since it has the authority to do so under Republic Act 6981.

It noted that under Section 12 of Republic Act 6981, the DOJ has the power to exclude a witness outright from the information and to admit him or her into the Witness Protection Program.

The CA noted that the decision to whether admit an accused as state witness relies solely on the judge handling the case.

It pointed out that while the prosecution has control over the witnesses it would present and the application for the discharge of the said three accused, the trial court already acquired jurisdiction over them upon their arraignment.

Furthermore, the CA reiterated that the discharge of the accused to become state witnesses was unnecessary.

It agreed with Judge Reyes that their testimonies are substantially the same with other witnesses namely Raul Sangki, Norodin Zailon Mauyag, Akmad Abubakar Esmael, and Lakmodin Saliao.

The CA also gave credence to the findings of the lower court that there are other prosecution witnesses who can testify on the commission of the crimes and the participation of the other accused mentioned by the three supposed witnesses.

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.

The Maguindanao massacre case involved the killing of at least 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists, on Nov. 23, 2009.

The 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 were the latest accused arrested is Jonathan Engid on February 28, 2017.

Four of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan, Sr. died while in detention while four of the accused who submitted their demurrer to evidence were acquitted by the Quezon City regional trial court Branch 221. Thus, from those arraigned, only 103 accused remain on trial.

The Ampatuan clan was accused of masterminding the Maguindanao massacre, which killed 58 people to derail the political plans of rival Esmael Mangudadatu, incumbent governor of Maguindanao, for the 2010 elections. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency