2 Ampatuans to go free
By Dona Pazzibugan, Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The government will drop murder charges against two prominent members of the powerful Ampatuan clan in connection with the November 2009 massacre of 57 people, including 31 media workers, in Maguindanao.
Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and his cousin Akmad Ampatuan, the former acting vice governor of Maguindanao, will be dropped from the list of those accused, Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said Saturday.
The two men were initially alleged to be among the key planners of the massacre that drew condemnation from all over the world.
Agra said he had ordered state prosecutors to exclude Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from the information sheet filed before the court, and that the prosecutors would formally inform Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes that they were not charging the two with murder.
Asked if the two would now be released, Agra said: “It will depend on the judge.”
Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan were among the family members transferred from detention in General Santos City and Davao City to Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City, on Friday night.
The dropping of charges is seen to provoke outrage among the massacre victims’ relatives, who have repeatedly voiced concern that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had secretly intended to protect the Ampatuans because they were longtime political allies.
In February, the prosecution charged that Zaldy, Akmad and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to murder the Mangudadatus, their political rivals, who were in a convoy accompanied by lawyers and journalists on Nov. 23.
But Agra said Saturday that there was “no proof of conspiracy,” so he gave weight to Zaldy Ampatuan’s alibi of being elsewhere at the time of the massacre.
He said Zaldy Ampatuan had presented evidence consisting of plane tickets and cell phone records to show that he was not in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, and a witness who testified to that effect.
Agra said there was likewise no proof of conspiracy with regard to Akmad Ampatuan, who, he claimed, was not identified by witness Kenny Dalagdag, was not included in the charge sheet of the National Bureau of Investigation and Philippine National Police, and had an alibi of being part of a medical mission elsewhere at the time of the massacre.
But lawyer Harry Roque, who represents the families of some of the massacre victims, pointed out that “under criminal law, alibi is the weakest form of defense.”
Roque also said witness Dalagdag had testified that Zaldy Ampatuan knew of the plan to kill members of the Mangudadatu clan.
DOJ, Arroyo’s political arm
Roque said the dropping of charges against the two Ampatuans was the handiwork of the President through Agra, who, being a member of the Cabinet, was her “alter ego.”
He said Agra’s decision was “not only erroneous [but also] scandalous.”
“Agra is the alter ego of the President. He can’t do anything without [her] consent. This is Gloria in action,” an upset Roque told the Inquirer.
He added: “It only proves that victims of the massacre will never get justice under the Arroyo administration.”
Roque said the widows of the slain journalists would immediately petition Judge Solis-Reyes to disqualify the state prosecutors from handling the murder case.
He said Agra’s decision could be part of a supposed plan of the administration to use the Ampatuans’ “cheating machineries” to ensure the victory of its national candidates.
“The Department of Justice is acting like the political arm of Ms Arroyo. This is the price of using the cheating machineries of the Ampatuans,” he said.
In General Santos, Manuel Reblando, elder brother of slain Manila Bulletin reporter Alejandro “Bong” Reblando, expressed satisfaction that five members of the Ampatuan clan led by patriarch Andal Sr. had been moved from police and military custody to Camp Bagong Diwa.
“We are happy that they were finally brought to a place where they really belong—a maximum-security prison cell,” he said.
Reblando hailed Judge Solis-Reyes for issuing the commitment order that paved the way for the transfer of Andal Sr., his sons Zaldy, Anwar and Sajid, and nephew Akmad to Camp Bagong Diwa, where they joined primary suspect Andal Jr.
He said reporters would now be able to “closely monitor” if the Ampatuans were being given “special treatment.”
Reblando said that under the custody of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in General Santos, Zaldy and the other Ampatuans “lived in comfort.” With reports from Aquiles Z. Zonio and Nash Maulana, Inquirer Mindanao; Nina Calleja; and Agence France-Presse