Another Ampatuan witness blocked from testifying


Feb. 15, 2012

After a long exchange on whether which camp is delaying the Ampatuan massacre trial, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court ruled, in favor of the Defense camp, to bar another witness from testifying today (Feb. 15).

Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes moved to reconsider her initial order allowing the presentation of witness P/Insp. Francisco Sonza, leaving the Prosecution with no other witness to present in today’s hearing, in light of the bail petition filed by some of the accused in the case.

The Prosecution camp wanted to present Sonza, head of the investigation team that conducted an inspection of vehicles and equipment kept inside Camp Tambler in General Santos City, as part of the evidence related to the gruesome murder of 58 people, 32 of whom are journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

Among the inventoried vehicles were patrol pick-up vehicles owned by the Maguindanao police, passenger vans that carried the victims, and the provincial government-owned backhoe that was reportedly used to bury the victims and other evidence.

But after a debate that ensued between the two camps, Reyes said, “I’m inclined to reconsider [the earlier order].

Reyes decided on the ground that his name was not among the 292 prosecution witnesses listed in the pretrial order. “His name was not even mentioned by the prosecution,” she added.

Earlier, the Defense camp, through lawyer Andres Manuel, said they “will be willing to stipulate materials which Sonza have, whether he had signed them or not, so long as they pertain to the inventory of the equipment and vehicles stored in Camp Tambler,” but “his testimony would be necessary.”

But Prosecution argued otherwise, saying the documents only dealt with the inventory of vehicles, but how it was seized and recovered is not included, and Sonza would have narrated the details.

Manuel argued, Sonza’s testimony on the seizure and recovery of the vehicles is part of post-facto (after the fact) evidence, which, he argued, goes against normal case proceedings. “[O]ur objection,” Manuel added, “is to do away with chaff”.

Prosecution however argued Sonza’s testimony would be used not solely as evidence for the crime itself, but also for the petitions for bail filed by the accused.

Reyes asked if Prosecution could instead present former Criminal Investigation and Detection Group -Region 12 (CIDG-12) Head P/Supt. Pedro Austria, also regarding the inventory.

Prosecutor Peter Medalle said, “He is incompetent to testify because Austria wasn’t a party to the inspection.”
Reyes asked, “Why don’t you present [Austria] and have his testimony?” to which Medalle answered, “He is not physically available.” Austria was replaced as Head of CIDG-12 on Nov. 9, 2011 and has since been reassigned at Region I, Ilocos Sur.

The first few hours of the trial had the Defense and Prosecution arguing over whether or not to present Sonza, which led to a debate on why the case was not moving fast.

Lawyer Paris Real complained that proceedings have been stalled not because they have been blocking witnesses, but because of Prosecution ‘s habit of bringing surprise witnesses. “They would bring a witness not listed in the pretrial order. Of course we would object because it is a violation of the accused’s rights.”

Recently, Defense lawyer Sigfrid Fortun blocked the testimony of Gemma Oquendo, sister of Mangudadatu lawyer Cynthia Oquendo and a forensic expert from the National Bureau of Investigation. Gemma Oquendo was supposed to testify on the messages sent by her sister before the victims were killed.

Medalle argued that bail proceedings, and the case itself, could have moved forward had the court already resolved the pending motions that hinder the testimonies of their key witnesses, Sukarno Badal and Kenny Dalandag.

“The testimony of witness Badal and Dalandag are very vital to our opposition (for bail)…we manifest that the presentation of Kenny Dalandag be resolved,” said Medalle.

Reyes insisted that the Prosecution must present other witnesses instead while her draft motion resolving the pending petition to allow Dalandag’s testimony is on the way.

Atty. Sigfrid Fortun asked the Prosecution to come up with a list of other witnesses for the bail proceedings so they could estimate when they can already present their evidence.

Medalle promised to come up with a list “soon”. Reyes gave the Prosecution team until Mar. 7 to finalize the list.