Friday, 18 December 2009

Woman judge to try Ampatuans

QC judge refuses PNP offer of security
By Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — Just an ordinary day.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is treating the trial of Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the massacre of 57 people as an ordinary case that would not require any special police security.

The case was raffled off to the presiding judge of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 after Judge Luisito Cortez of RTC Branch 84 on Tuesday declined to try the alleged brains behind the worst political violence in the nation’s history.

Citing a potential security threat to his staff and his household, the 49-year-old Cortez, who survived an ambush as a trial judge, told reporters: “What is glory without a family?”

Reyes declined to meet with reporters after getting the assignment following a second raffle Thursday at the Quezon City court.

The election-related massacre in Maguindanao on Nov. 23 prompted the imposition of martial law in the province for eight days to allow for the arrest of Ampatuan’s father, three-term provincial governor, and three of his brothers and the investigation of over 600 armed supporters for rebellion.

Deputy Director General Jefferson Soriano of the Philippine National Police told reporters after a meeting with Reyes that the judge did not feel any immediate need for a bodyguard.

“If she does need one, she said she will call us,” Soriano said. “She said she will treat this as an ordinary case. She was very composed, very confident when I talked to her. I don’t think she was surprised, she is prepared to handle this.”

Not taking any chances

Ampatuan is detained at the National Bureau of Investigation jail. NBI officials said they were not taking any chances for the appearance of Ampatuan at Friday’s preliminary investigation of multiple charges against him at the Department of Justice, a stone’s throw away.

NBI spokesperson Ric Diaz said the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao province would be bundled in a bullet-proof van for the short drive, escorted by dozens of NBI agents.

A member of the court staff said that the result of the raffle dampened the office Christmas party which was coincidentally held at the same time.

“She felt sad. Of course, anyone who gets the case will feel sad,” said the staff member.

Soriano said that while Cortez had had death threats, Reyes had no such experience. “She has not handled any controversial cases before,” he said.

The police officer, however, said that he assured the judge and her staff that the PNP was prepared to allot a “sizable number” of security escorts for the duration of the trial.


A University of Santo Tomas law graduate, Reyes was a public attorney for three years before she began serving as a public prosecutor in 1995. In 2001, she became Municipal Trial Court judge in Angeles City and started her stint in the Quezon City court in 2004.

A lawyer described Reyes as the “silent type” who did things by the book.

“She is lenient and considerate,” the lawyer told the Inquirer in a text message. “She is poker mannered. You can hardly read what’s her inclinations which is good so you won’t leave anything to chance in getting things done before her court.”

The Supreme Court has directed the Quezon City court to hold hearings at Camp Crame, general headquarters of the PNP.

But Soriano said the PNP might request the high tribunal to transfer the venue to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, or at a police camp in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.

“Camp Crame is too open, so we want to transfer the venue to a smaller, more secure camp,” he added.

Cry for justice

In Tacurong City, some families of the massacre victims called on the government to ensure that justice is served.

“We don’t want to grieve anew over the slow justice system in the country. Prosecute the Ampatuans fast,” said Allan Cachuela, whose brother Hannibal, a reporter of Punto News, was one of the 30 journalists killed in the massacre.

“I feel uneasy and depressed each time I think of the preliminary hearing. Will the prosecutors deliver in our favor? I doubt it because the government has not even fulfilled its promise of supporting the family of the victims,” he said.

Eden, widow of Anthony Ridao, also expressed disappointment over the perceived fear of judges and lawyers handling the case.

“I am just heartbroken because there is no clear support from the higher officials. I am afraid that the case will end up nowhere,” Eden said.

Eden’s husband, a son of a Cotabato City councilor, was en route to Cotabato City when his Tamaraw FX was seized by Ampatuan’s men.

Ridao ended up one of the massacre victims, although he was not part of the convoy of journalists and relatives and supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadato, which was on its way to file his certificate of candidacy for governor.

At the Maguindanao capitol, government employees complained that several offices were “ransacked” and valuables were taken while it was under military control.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, denied the allegation. With reports from Nancy C. Carvajal, Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Jeannette I. Andrade in Manila; and Rosa May de Guzman and Edwin Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao

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