Maguindanao massacre families to appeal over dropped charges
Agence France-Presse via ABS-CBN
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE) – Families of those slain in the Philippines’ worst political massacre vowed on Sunday to appeal a government decision to drop charges against 2 members of a Muslim clan blamed for the killings.
“We are going to oppose this order in court. We will file an appeal,” Harry Roque, a private prosecutor representing some of the families, told AFP.
“They are angry, feel they were absolutely betrayed by the government, and believe there is a political compromise,” he charged.
Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on Saturday ordered murder charges be dropped against cousins Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan for the November massacre in strife-torn Maguindanao province.
He said both men presented alibis that showed they were not present at the time of the massacre in which 57 people, including many journalists, were executed at point blank range by gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans.
Government prosecutors had initially charged that both men and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to carry out the murders.
The murders were allegedly intended to prevent a rival from running against clan member Andal Ampatuan Jr. for the post of provincial governor in the May 10 national elections.
“The decision dropping murder charges against them was so sly and done on a weekend when no one was looking,” Roque said. “It is so brazen, and shows that justice will not be reached in this administration.”
Roque said his clients would also ask the court handling the case to disqualify the present panel of state prosecutors and appoint new ones.
The Ampatuan clan had enjoyed close political ties with President Arroyo until she was forced to disown them amid international outrage in the aftermath of the bloodbath.
Arroyo’s government had in the past used the clan’s huge private army to help the government in its anti-insurgency drive, and to ensure that her candidates won in the south during previous elections, security analysts said.
In exchange, the government allegedly turned a blind eye to corruption and abuses in the local government, while the clan was building up its vast wealth.
In his 16-page resolution dropping the charges, Agra said public outrage should not be a reason “for a sweeping and senseless indictment”.
“To be sure, if life is taken, justice demands that the wrong be redressed,” he said.
“But this same justice that calls for retribution cannot be the same one that would convict the accused whose guilt cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.
Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu, whose wife and sisters were among those murdered, also vowed to question Agra’s decision.
In his interview on ANC’s “Dateline Philippines Sunday,” Mangudadatu pointed out that Zaldy and Akmad might not be present when the murder was committed, but a witness has testified that they took part in planning the gruesome crime.
He also dismissed Zaldy’s defense that he was in Manila on Nov. 23, 2009 when the murder occurred. Quoting a witness’ testimony, Mangudadatu said Zaldy was in Maguindanao on the eve of the murder to allegedly plan the crime before rushing to Davao City to take a morning flight to Manila.
“Tama naman po ang sinabi niya na he wasn’t there during the massacre. He was in Malacañang that time. But it doesn’t mean that Zaldy Ampatuan ay hindi kasali diyan sa planning,” he said.
Despite Agra’s decision, Mangudadatu said his camp will ensure that Zaldy and Akmad will not be released from jail. He said he and his camp are prepared to bring the case to the Supreme Court if their motion for reconsideration is denied.
He also called on Agra, who he said represented the Ampatuans in their election cases, not to be hasty in dropping the charges against the 2 Ampatuans as he reminded him that 57 innocent people were killed in the massacre.