THE pre-trial conference of the Maguindanao massacre case on Friday was cancelled after a defense lawyer failed to appear at the hearing at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan in Taguig City Friday.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes ordered the resetting of the pre-trial on August 17 after lawyer Nelson Roque, counsel for Police Inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg, failed to show up at the proceeding.

The court required Roque to explain his absence or suffer the pain of being cited in contempt.

In ordering the resetting of the pre-trial, Solis-Reyes said the court wanted to make sure that the absence could be used to justify a technicality in the case, a point confirmed by Assistant State Prosecutor Juan Pedro Navera.

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"Besides, the absence of counsel could be cited by his lawyer later on as a technicality and ground for the dismissal of the case against him," Navera added.

In a related development, the lawyer of two civilians accused in the murder case said they were not the persons who were identified as suspects in the charge sheet.

Rommel Asuncion of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) told the court that the names of his clients, who in the charge sheet were identified as Maot Dumla and Thong Guimano, were incorrect, thus the court may have the wrong persons in custody.

Asuncion said the persons arrested were named Ibrahim Kamal Tatak and Not Abdul.

Both however entered not guilty pleas during the arraignment last week, when the judge called on Guimano and Dumla.

In response, the court gave the suspects 10 days to explain their predicament. Asuncion said he would be filing a motion to withdraw his client's plea.

Last July 28, the principal suspects in Maguindanao massacre Andal Ampatuan pleaded not guilty of slaughtering 57 people including 31 journalists.

Ampatuan's co-accused Mohamad Sangki, Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay, Police Officer 2 Hernanie Decipulo, Police Officer 2 Saudiar Ulah Police Officer 2 Saudi Pasutan, Police Officer 1 Heinrich Amaba, Police Officer 1 Esprielito Lejarso, Police Officer 1 Rainier Ibus, Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, Inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg, Police Officer 1 Pia Kamidon, Mohamad Sangki, Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay, Esmael Canapia, Takpan Dilon, Maot Dumla and Thong Guimano entered a plea of not guilty to the crime.

Sangki, Dicay, Police Officer 3 Rashid Anton, Guimano and Dumla also pleaded not guilty when arraigned for the 56 counts of murder charges in relation to the grisly killings.

Earlier, the court dropped a policeman, Police Officer 1 Johann Draper, from the charge sheet for lack of probable cause bringing the number of accused to 196.

Initially, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed 56 counts of murder against the accused in the massacre because the body of the 57th victim is yet to be accounted for.

Out of the over 190 accused in the massacre, only 62 are detained in Camp Bagong Diwa including members of the powerful Ampatuan clan led by its patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan. (AH/Sunnex)