GOVERNMENT prosecutors have convinced the Supreme Court (SC) to transfer to Manila the trial of multiple murder cases against police officials in relation to the killing of 13 people in Atimonan, Quezon in January 2013.
In a notice dated June 9, the SC First Division ordered the Gumaca Regional Trial Court branch 61 in Quezon to forward the records of the cases to the clerk of court of the Manila RTC.
The cases will then be heard by a certain court following a raffle to be conducted by Executive Judge Marino dela Cruz.
In his request for change of venue, Prosecutor General Claro Arellano mentioned security risk and high government cost involved in transporting all the accused from the Philippine National Police (PNP) Detention Center in Camp Crame, Quezon City to Gumaca.
He added that Gumaca is not a conducive place to hold the trial as the witnesses and the accused are "vulnerable" to extremists in the area, considering the political and economic status of the personalities in the cases and the geographical location of the said town.
"The greater security risk involved, both on the part of the accused and the witnesses, makes the prosecution of the case in the Regional Trial Court of Gumaca, Quezon more complex and difficult. Hence, it would be more constructive and expedient to hold the trial in Manila," Arellano said in a letter to the SC on October 21, 2013.
The Constitution allows the High Court to order a change of venue of trial to avoid "miscarriage of justice," where there are serious and weighty reasons present that would stop the original court handling the case from conducting a fair and impartial trial.
The SC exercised this prerogative in a string of high-profile cases including the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and siege of Zamboanga City last year by forces loyal to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding chairman Nur Misuari.
The Atimonan incident was passed off by main accused Hansel Marantan as a legitimate operation against the group of suspected jueteng lord Vic Siman but the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) discovered that it was a rubout since the victims had no opportunity to exchange gun fire with policemen and soldiers who tried to stop their convoy at a road checkpoint.
Marantan is the former deputy intelligence chief of the Calabarzon police. (Sunnex)