Families of Maguindanao massacre victims seek Agra's disbarment

Families of Maguindanao massacre victims seek Agra’s disbarment
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – The families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre last November yesterday sought the disbarment of Justice Secretary Alberto Agra for dismissing the murder charges against two prominent members of the Ampatuan clan.

Family members of 12 of the massacre victims, represented by lawyer Harry Roque, filed a complaint with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) seeking the removal of Agra from the roll of attorneys.

Agra on Saturday ordered the dropping of murder charges against suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr.

The complainants argued that Agra’s decision to clear the two suspects in the massacre case violated Canon 1 of the IBP Code of Professional Responsibility.

Canon 1 states: “A lawyer shall uphold the Constitution, obey the laws of the land, and promote respect for law and legal processes.”

“Atty. Agra rendered his resolution even without requiring and hearing the comments of the complainants, in gross violation of the complainants’ constitutional rights to due process which demand that they be heard first before they are deprived of their rights. It is basic and elementary for any lawyer,” the complainants said.

“It was utterly unlawful, dishonest, deceitful, immoral, and certainly shameless to the legal profession that Agra proceeded to railroad his Resolution without consideration of the complainants’ right to be heard.”

The complainants said the Ampatuans’ petition for review should have been dismissed because the suspects failed to produce copies to the aggrieved parties.

Agra also earlier admitted that he did not follow the regular administrative procedure in reviewing cases when he dismissed the charges against the Ampatuans.

Under regular process, eight divisions of prosecutors will review the case and send their recommendations to the Justice secretary before a resolution is made.

Under this setting, the resolutions of state prosecutors shall be evaluated by two senior state prosecutors with an assistant chief state prosecutor who will oversee the review.

Their recommendations would be reviewed again by the chief state prosecutor before sending the resolution to the Justice secretary for approval.

Agra admitted a prosecutor drafted the resolution and submitted it to him.

“It (resolution) was drafted by a prosecutor and I took sole responsibility with this ruling,” Agra said.

He said Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Ricardo Fadullon and Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano disagree with his findings.

The IBP will now decide if it will forward the complaint to the Supreme Court (SC) for resolution.

The complaint was signed by Juliet Palor Evardo, Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian, Glenna Legarta, Jean Merisco, Catherine Nuñez, Noemi Parcon, Ramonita Salaysay, Editha Mirandilla Tiamzon, Erlyn Idalo Umpad.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers, in a statement, condemned Agra’s resolution, saying it “violated legal doctrines and principles on basic criminal procedure.”

“The move not only had further contributed to serious public doubts about the integrity of the entire Department of Justice (DOJ), it also grossly tainted the country’s criminal justice system in general,” said lawyer Edre Olalia, acting secretary-general of NUPL.

Citing the landmark case of Crespo vs. Mogul, the group said the trial court retains control over the prosecution of criminal cases. – With Paolo Romero

Karen Ang

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