Deputy jail warden sacked over Andal press con
By Cecille Suerte Felipe
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno ordered the relief of a jail official for allowing accused mass murderer Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. to hold a press conference in the Bicutan jail to endorse a political candidate.
Puno ordered the relief of Senior Inspector Lloyd Gonzaga as deputy warden of the Quezon City Jail annex located in Bicutan, Taguig.
Gonzaga reportedly allowed Ampatuan to hold a press conference inside the jail facilities last Tuesday.
Ampatuan caught everyone by surprise when he openly declared his support for Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III and vice presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Roxas II, a few days after he had shown support for Nacionalista Party (NP) candidate Sen. Manuel Villar.
Puno issued a memorandum, explaining that the immediate relief of Gonzaga is under the provisions of Republic Act 9263, or the law creating the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP).
Puno designated Superintendent Clement Laboy, chief of staff of the BJMP National Capital Region, (NCR) to replace Gonzaga.
Shortly after Ampatuan’s stunt, Puno ordered an investigation of the Bicutan jail officials.
Ampatuan is the principal accused in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao in November last year. His father, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., and other accused joined him in detention for their involvement in the massacre.
Puno ordered DILG Undersecretary for Public Safety Marius Corpus to investigate last Tuesday’s press conference at the Bicutan jail for violation of the rules and regulations regarding the handling and custody of inmates.
“The investigation will continue, and in compliance with the directive of the secretary other jail officials found to have violated policies and regulations on the matter will be dealt with accordingly,” Corpus said.
Corpus said he ordered Gonzaga and other jail officials to explain why they allowed Ampatuan to hold the press conference.
“They should be careful, not really to prevent media interviews but impose some policy (during interview),” Corpus said.
He said media interviews with inmates could be granted to discuss issues regarding their case, “but not to endorse any candidate.”
Gonzaga could not be reached for comment yesterday but had earlier argued there was no court order prohibiting Ampatuan from granting media interviews.
“The court did not issue prior notice that the procedure we apply to normal detainees concerning granting of interviews can’t be applied in the case of Ampatuan,” Gonzaga said.
“As far as we are concerned, the procedure is as simple as that. There is no need for a court order. They (critics) are just reacting that way because the accused (Ampatuan) is a high profile inmate,” he said.
The Commission on Human Rights (CHR), on the other hand, called on the BJMP to clarify its policies and rules regarding the freedom and restrictions of detainees.
CHR chair Leila de Lima said the question of allowing a detainee like Ampatuan to exercise his freedom of expression while in detention should be properly addressed.
She said any such policy coming from the BJMP should not be selective but should simply state whether detainees like Ampatuan could be allowed to hold a press conference inside jail.
De Lima said detainees, as a rule, are not yet prisoners who are deprived of civil rights and liberties after being convicted.
If there are no clear-cut rules, De Lima argued the BJMP should not discriminate.
Hours after Ampatuan made known his political preferences, Aquino and Roxas immediately issued statements denying they are seeking endorsement of the family. They even branded Ampatuan’s endorsement as “a sick joke.”
Critics immediately took the opportunity to link the LP candidates to the Ampatuans.
Sen. Edgardo Angara, president of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), also denied allegations that he arranged the press conference of Ampatuan in Bicutan jail in an apparent attempt to destroy Aquino and Roxas.
Angara lamented the LP went overboard in accusing almost everyone for the fiasco.
“They said they have received reports that I was behind the press conference. I wish they examined its veracity first before lashing out baseless accusations,” he said.
Angara said the LDP has not declared support for any presidential candidate, only for vice presidential bet Sen. Loren Legarda of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), running mate of Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr.
“Even what they said about my support for Villar has no leg to stand on. My party, the LDP, has expressed its support for Senator Legarda as its vice president. We do not back any presidential candidate up to now,” Angara said. – With Rhodina Villanueva, Michael Punongbayan, Christina Mendez