By Ben Rosario
Lawmakers on Thursday hailed not only the over 700-page decision handed down by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes on the infamous Maguindanao massacre, but the feisty Regional Trial Court magistrate herself for her display of courage and fairness.
This handout from the Supreme Court - Public Information Office (SC-PIO) taken and released on December 19, 2019
shows a court employee (R) reading the verdict for the 2009 Maguindanao massacre at the trial venue inside a prison facility in Manila. (AFP PHOTO / SUPREME COURT - PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE (SC-PIO) / MANILA BULLETIN)
In separate press statements, members of the House of Representatives also lauded Reyes’ decision as a signal that impunity has ended or will be over soon in the country.
“Certainly, the mass killing is a test to the Philippine justice system,” said Cavite Representative Elpidio Barzaga, president of the National Unity Party.
Barzaga said there should be “recognition of the legal prowess, commitment, and bravery of Judge Reyes who took the responsibility of deciding the case despite the threats to her life and her family.”
However, the veteran lawmaker said the search for justice is not yet over, pointing out that after 3,678 days at least 80 accused individuals still remain at large.
House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Isagani Zarate and Rep. Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna; Rep. Nina Taduran of ACT-CIS party-list, and Alfredo Garbin of Ako Bicol party-list issued separate statements on the verdict
Zarate said the convicted should be sent immediately to serve their sentence at the New Bilibid Prison and “suffer the consequences of their barbaric deeds.”
"It is truly tragic but true that the Ampatuan massacre is emblematic of the dangers posed by private armies, militias, and paramilitaries and how it became one of the pillars of the reign of impunity in our country," he said.
For her part, Cullamat lamented the drawn-out case notwithstanding the welcome verdict.
Taduran, a former broadcast journalist, said justice for all the victims, including the 32 news media personnel, was finally served under the pen of Solis-Reyes.
“As we celebrate the bravery and wisdom of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, we must also continue to pray for her safety and the witnesses’ and families of the victims’ wellbeing,” Taduran said.
However, she said the 80 suspects who have yet to be arrested should now be accounted for.
Taduran believes that these 80 suspects, 14 of whom are Ampatuan relatives, are still threats to the surviving victims and their families as well as the witnesses.
Meanwhile, Garbin said Congress must now do its part in putting an end to impunity in the country, especially that committed by private armies such as the Ampatuans had.
“I see the need for much stronger voter education laws and programs, the eradication of private armies, confiscation of all loose firearms, stoppage of all sources of funds of lawless elements, and bans on criminals from any post in government,” Garbin said.