President Benigno Aquino III has given fresh instructions to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to "vigorously" oppose any attempt to delay the three-year-old Ampatuan massacre trial, the President's spokesman said Monday.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Aquino told De Lima to instruct the prosecution panel from her department to do everything it can to expedite the trial on the grisly killing of 58 people in Maguindanao in 2009.
"The President has instructed the DOJ, number one, on the side of the prosecution, that we should avoid delaying the case. We should oppose any dilatory tactics employed by the other side," Lacierda told reporters at a press briefing.
He, however, conceded that the ability of the executive branch and the prosecution panel to dictate the pace of the trial is only "limited."
"This is under the judicial system. There are processes involved. So limited po tayo sa ating prosecution panel. The Supreme Court has already done their part and they have already done a number of measures to speed up the case," he said.
Convictions by 2016?
An Agence France-Press story earlier quoted De Lima as saying that the President has given her marching orders to secure the conviction of the "principal accused" in the massacre by 2016--the year Aquino's term ends.
A Quezon City court, presided by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, is currently holding hearings on the massacre case twice a week.
Of the 198 suspects, 92 have been arraigned. All of them--including primary suspect Andal Jr. and his father Andal Sr.--pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of murder filed before them before the Quezon City court.
De Lima, for her part, expressed readiness to accept the "challenge" of the President to secure convictions on the massacre case in three years.
"Since that case is a litmus test for the Philippine justice system, it is the prosecution's aspiration and target that we achieve convictions, at least of the principal accused, within the term of this administration," the Justice chief said in a separate text message — Andreo Calonzo/RSJ, GMA News