QC court junks rebellion raps against Ampatuans

QC court junks rebellion raps against Ampatuans
By Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Citing lack of evidence, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Monday dismissed rebellion charges against Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and six other members of his powerful clan in connection with the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people and ordered their release.

In an 18-page order, Judge Vivencio Baclig of RTC Branch 77 said that the prosecution committed abuse of discretion by “ignoring a clear lack of evidence to support a finding of probable cause.”

“The essential element of public armed uprising against the government is lacking. There were no masses or multitudes involving crowd action done in furtherance of a political end,” Baclig said.

There was no showing that the purpose of the uprising was to overthrow the duly constituted government in order to establish another form of government, and thus the second element of the crime of rebellion was also absent, he said.

“Absent the required probable cause for rebellion, the prosecution should not have proceeded to file the case against the accused.”

Baclig ordered the release of the Ampatuans “unless they are held by a court of law for other lawful causes.”

In Davao City, Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the Ampatuan patriarch and members of his family were facing other cases in connection with the massacre and could not be freed.

Because the Ampatuans are also facing multiple murder charges before RTC Branch 221’s Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, the accused would remain in detention while awaiting trial for the massacre, said acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

Agra said that Reyes had found probable cause in the multiple murder case to warrant the continued detention of the accused.

“That’s settled,” Agra said, adding that state lawyers would ask Baclig not to effect the release of the Ampatuans in view of Reyes’ standing order for their continued detention.

Lawyer’s plea

Sigfried Fortun, the Maguindanao governor’s lawyer, said that his client should be released because Reyes had not issued an arrest warrant for multiple murder.

The reason for this, according to government lawyers, was that the accused had already been under arrest.

Other members of the Ampatuan clan detained for rebellion are Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, Akmad Tato Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan and Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan, Takpan Dilon and Esmael Canapia.

They, along with more than 20 others, were charged with rebellion by the Department of Justice for allegedly planning a rebellion after the massacre of members of the rival Mangudadatu clan who were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for governor.

Thirty journalists were among those slaughtered in the largest group of media people killed in one incident anywhere in the world.

The Ampatuans were arrested in early December last year following the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, which lasted for eight days.

No control over police

Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, who served as martial law administrator, had testified that there was no more control over the police in Maguindanao and that police involved in the massacre no longer followed orders from the chain of command.

The prosecution anchored its claim of rebellion on four scenarios: The absence of prosecutors to litigate the massacre; massive formations of armed civilians; employees went on mass leave, paralyzing local government units; and courts were not functioning.

However, Baclig pointed out that there was nothing on record to support the scenarios.

The court noted that evidence on record showed that Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the governor’s namesake son and principal suspect in the massacre, was made to undergo inquest proceedings after he was taken into custody.

As to the supposed massive formations of armed civilians, Baclig said the photos submitted “hardly portray a menacing and violent armed mob that is poised to undermine governmental authority.”

No signs of hatred

“In fact, none of the exhibits will show that anyone of the protesters is armed,” Baclig said, adding that some of the placards used by the protesters even displayed statements such as “We love you Madame President” and “We want due process.”

“It is clear that these are not statements of hatred or anger with political purpose of toppling the present government; instead they are expressions of respect for lawful authorities,” Baclig said.

He noted that the supposedly nonfunctioning local government units were closed down by the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police, “without any justifiable reason.”

Baclig noted that the government even declared martial law and a state of emergency in the province, and said that “no armed group would be bold and daring enough to challenge the might of government forces deployed in the area during that time.”

In a motion for reconsideration, Datu Zaldy Ampatuan asked Reyes to junk its previous order naming him as one of the 196 respondents in the massacre case. He said there was “undue haste” in the prosecution’s finding of probable cause against him.

In a separate motion, the governor and his namesake son also asked Reyes to scrap its March 24 order including them in the multiple murder charge. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Marlon Ramos and Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.