A local court in the Philippines on Wednesday (February 10) deferred the bail hearing for Andal Ampatuan Jr., the key suspect in last November’s Maguindanao massacre.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court postponed the February 17 hearing to February 24, to give the respective counsels of the 197 other suspects more time to catch up with proceedings, local media reported.
Philippine prosecutors on Tuesday filed murder charges against Andal Ampatuan Sr. and 196 others for the massacre of 57 people in the country's worst election-related violence.
The father of Andal Ampatuan Jr., Andal Ampatuan Sr. will face 57 counts of murder before a local court in Manila. He’s the patriarch of a powerful political clan with close ties to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. His family ruled the poor and troubled southern Maguindanao province for nearly a decade.
Twenty-five other members of his family, 65 soldiers and police officers, and 106 members of a civilian militia force were also charged for the murders at a hilly area in Maguindanao on November 23.
Prosecution lawyers said they would not oppose the motion because this would help both parties proceed with the hearings with fewer obstacles.
[Harry Roque, Lawyer for Families of Journalist Victims]:
"It is really true that more information will be gathered against the many accused and we do not want the witnesses to give testimonies repeatedly, because to date, they have received numerous threats and intimidations."
Thirty local journalists, along with seven members of the Ampatuan's rival clan and 20 civilians, were attacked by about 100 armed men while on their way to witness the filing of nomination papers of a rival of the Ampatuans.
The deaths heightened the Philippines' profile as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. The massacre has also stoked tensions ahead of elections in May.