Esmael Mangudadatu

Agra defers new resolution on massacre case

Agra defers new resolution on massacre case
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Alberto Agra has deferred the release of his final decision on the fate of two prominent members of the Ampatuan clan in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.

Agra said he opted to give families of the victims until today to file their supplemental motion for reconsideration as manifested earlier by their lawyer Nena Santos.

“While Atty. Nena Santos had previously filed a motion for reconsideration last week, the National Prosecution Service rule on appeals provides that they have 10 days from receipt of copy of the resolution within which to file (a motion). The records showed that the 10th

day falls tomorrow (April 30),” he said in a statement released yesterday.

He said that he wants to give the aggrieved parties the fullest extent of their right to appeal his resolution last April 16 that cleared detained Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr. of involvement in the multiple murder case.

“The DOJ received on April 27 a Manifestation from Santos, the counsel on record of private complainants, that they will file a supplemental motion on Friday. We will wait for that,” Agra said.

Santos is the counsel for the families of 25 of 57 victims in the massacre.

Lawyer Harry Roque Jr., counsel of the relatives of 12 other victims, also asked that the resolution of Agra be nullified because their clients were not given a chance to oppose the petition for review of the two Ampatuans who were cleared by the DOJ chief from any involvement in the massacre.

The massacre resulted in the killing of 57 people, including the wife of Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan, Maguindanao and two of his sisters, two female lawyers and 30 journalists who covered the supposed filing of certificate of candidacy of the vice mayor who will run for governor of Maguindanao and challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan.

The Mangudadatus have blamed the Ampatuans for the incident, specifically pointing to Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao as the leader of more than 100 armed men who waylaid Mangudadatu’s supporters.

The Ampatuans denied any involvement in the massacre.

Agra vowed last Monday to review his resolution and release his decision within the week in compliance with an order from Malacañang, but with the recent development, he said his new ruling would be released maybe next week.

“I will consult with the prosecutors involved, and take their opinions and observations under advisement, and give their recommendations the utmost weight and consideration,” he stressed.

Agra said he has decided to act on the appeals himself rather than create a review panel because it is the sole prerogative of the DOJ secretary to resolve any motion for reconsideraton filed before the department.

“Because it is like any other case, where both the victim and the accused are accorded the same constitutional rights, I will not inhibit myself in resolving the MR. I will not create a panel. My faith in my own objectivity has not been shaken, for there is no reason for me to doubt myself. I have, and always will, act in accordance with my conscience, and due regard to my oath as a lawyer and a public servant,” Agra added.

Pending release of a new resolution, Agra begged off from public interviews and said he would devote his time to pending work in his office.

Flanked by over 250 officers and employees, Agra said he has no plans of quitting his job due to mounting calls for his resignation over his controversial resolution.

Instead of just waiting for the court to act on the case of multiple murder, abduction, robbery and damage to property that DOJ prosecutors had filed against members of the Ampatuan clan, Agra said he had to issue a new resolution in view of the pending motion for review that defense lawyers had filed before the DOJ.

Agra to issue new Ampatuan ruling

Agra to issue new Ampatuan ruling
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Embattled Justice Secretary Alberto Agra will review his own ruling clearing two members of the Ampatuan clan in the Maguindanao massacre and come up with a decision within the week.

Agra has drawn flak for absolving detained Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin, acting Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr., also Mamasapano town mayor, of involvement in the slaughter of 57 people – including journalists and lawyers – on Nov. 23 last year in Maguindanao.

The multiple murder case against Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. and his son Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr. remains, based on Agra’s resolution.

The accused are detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Families of the victims have moved for the reversal of Agra’s decision.

The Ampatuans were staunch allies of President Arroyo and were believed to have manipulated the results of the 2004 elections in the province to ensure her victory. Mrs. Arroyo’s political foes have accused her of having a hand in the dropping of charges against the Ampatuans.

Malacañang ordered Agra to take a second look at his resolution, which even state prosecutors openly contested.

Agra, in his resolution, said there was no evidence to prove that the two Ampatuans had conspired with the other accused in carrying out the massacre.

“I will consult with the prosecutors involved, and take their opinions and observations under advisement, and give their recommendations the utmost weight and consideration,” Agra said in a speech before DOJ employees and officials attending a flag-raising ceremony at the department yesterday.

The DOJ chief said he has decided to act on the appeals himself rather than delegate the task – as he had promised – to a review panel.

He also shrugged off calls for him to inhibit from the case.

“The resolution of this motion for reconsideration belongs solely to the discretion of the DOJ secretary. And I intend to exercise that discretion in full,” he said.

“It is my intention to release the resolution of the MR (motion for reconsideration) this week. Political timing, as has been suggested, plays no part in my strict schedule. Those who know me know that delay is not my style.”

“Because it is like any other case, where both the victim and the accused are accorded the same constitutional rights, I will not inhibit myself in resolving the MR. I will not create a panel,” he said. “My faith in my own objectivity has not been shaken, for there is no reason for me to doubt myself. I have, and always will, act in accordance with my conscience, and due regard to my oath as a lawyer and a public servant,” he said.

No money involved

Agra said his decision to clear the two Ampatuans was based on evidence “with my heart leaning towards the victims, but my mind fixed on the rule of law.”

“With a clear conscience, I declared that burden was not discharged in that instance. Conscience was my motivation, and rule of law my guide,” he said.

“I will say with a straight face, on the honor of my father’s name, I did not receive a single centavo from any quarter, to release the resolution, or rule in that manner,” he stressed.

Agra also rebuffed calls for him to resign, saying he has no plan of turning his back on the challenges besetting his office.

Instead of just waiting for Quezon City Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to act on the multiple murder case against the Ampatuans and several others, Agra caught everyone by surprise by issuing a resolution last April 16 clearing Zaldy and Akmad, who is also the ARMM governor’s brother-in-law.

Agra said he was acting on a motion for review filed by defense lawyers.

He also said he had to act swiftly on the motion in keeping with his personal commitment to address the huge backlog of cases pending in his office.

When he took over as acting DOJ secretary about a month ago, there were reportedly 9,000 cases – some dating back to the 1990s – pending with the Office of the Secretary.

Agra said he hopes to cut the backlog by half by the time President Arroyo steps down on June 30.

The real targets of the Maguindanao massacre were the wife and relatives of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu who were leading a convoy of followers, journalists and lawyers on their way to Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy for governor to challenge Andal Jr.

Witnesses said they were stopped at a checkpoint along the Maguindanao highway by over a hundred heavily armed men led by Andal Jr.

The victims, some begging for their lives, were reportedly taken to a remote hilly area at gunpoint and executed one after another.

Most of the victims were already buried, some still in their vehicles, when help arrived.

More time needed

Malacañang was not bothered by the animosity between Agra and his prosecutors over his controversial ruling, saying they just need more time to resolve their differences.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar also called on possible witnesses to the massacre to come forward to help ensure speedy justice for the victims.

“Obviously if both sides – Secretary Agra and his prosecutors – need more time to come to terms then let’s leave them be and let them use the time left to reconcile,” Olivar told a news briefing.

“We cannot force this process. The important thing is they started to talk to each other and hopefully, sooner or later, they would reach a common position,” he said.

He noted that Agra himself had mentioned publicly that he continued to have an open mind on the appeals filed to reverse his resolution.

He also said the reported emergence of new witnesses could also lead to the reversal of Agra’s position.

Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza earlier directed Agra to meet with protesting prosecutors and submit weekly reports to the Palace on the developments of the case, including the tackling of the motion for reconsideration.

“The important thing is for justice in the end to be served, however long it may need to take,” Olivar said.

A day after the issuance of Agra’s order, state prosecutors walked out of their offices in protest.

“We are deeply concerned that the resolution will all the more convince a long skeptical public that our criminal justice system is impotent when the accused are politically influential,” chief state prosecutor Claro Arellano told reporters after the walkout.

“With all due respect (to Secretary Agra), we still believe that there was probable cause in the case,” Arellano said. With Paolo Romero

For Villar on Thursday, Aquino on Tuesday

For Villar on Thursday, Aquino on Tuesday
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Is sporting orange baller IDs (rubber bracelets) or wearing a yellow T-shirt and flashing the Laban sign an indication of one’s choice of a presidential candidate?

It usually is.

But Andal Ampatuan Jr., accused of carrying out the country’s worst election-related killings, did both in a span of five days.

Orange is the campaign color of Manuel Villar, Nacionalista Party (NP) standard-bearer, while yellow is the color of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, presidential candidate of the Liberal Party (LP).

On Thursday, the principal suspect in the slaughter of 57 people in Maguindanao, wore two NP ballers at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where he was transferred from a cell at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.

One bore the name of Villar in white letters and the other the name of NP senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla in orange letters on a purple background. (Remulla is a brother-in-law of Andal’s lawyer, Sigfrid Fortun.)

That image of Andal Jr. shown on ABS-CBN News coupled with reports that Remulla visited Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., the clan patriarch, in his hospital room in Camp Panacan in Davao City last month, fueled speculation that the Ampatuans were for Villar.

Twist

But in a strange twist, the younger Andal called a press conference Tuesday at the Metro Manila District Jail in Camp Bagong Diwa where he announced that the Ampatuans were supporting Aquino.

“Our whole family is endorsing Noynoy Aquino because we believe in him,” said Andal Jr., who was wearing a yellow baller ID and was not handcuffed.

He then smiled as he flashed an “L” hand signal (Laban sign) that is used by Aquino.

“Noynoy tayo, ha?” Andal Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, kept reiterating.

Asked if he had talks with the camp of Villar, he said: “We had no communication with them. As I have said, (the rumors) are part of politics. ”

In a message to Aquino, Andal Jr. said in Filipino, “Don’t let the administration rig the election. I want you to win.”

Joke

Aquino treated as a joke a report that the Ampatuan clan had declared its support for his candidacy.

“No, thank you” was Aquino’s reply to reporters seeking his reaction to Andal Jr.’s press conference.

Aquino said he had not talked to Andal Jr. “I am not running after their endorsement.”

The LP standard-bearer said that he was a victim of cheating in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2007 when he ran for a Senate seat. Andal Jr.’s brother, Zaldy, is the suspended ARMM governor and one of the accused in the massacre, who along with Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan, was cleared last week by acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

“Sen. (Francis) Escudero and I were laughing about it. He told me not to look at the (Maguindanao election returns) because I’d just feel bad. But I told him at least I got 13 votes and he (Escudero) only got 12,” Aquino said.

Family decision

Andal Jr. said that when his father and brothers arrived in the same jail with him on Thursday, they talked about the candidates they would endorse.

He, his father, brothers Zaldy, Sajid and Anwar, and nephew Akmad are detained in a 64-square-meter cell in the headquarters of the National Capital Regional Police Office in Bicutan, Taguig.

He said someone from Aquino’s camp had talked to him.

“We are supporting Noynoy because we believe he is the one who can expose the truth about what happened in the massacre,” Andal Jr. said.

He said that if he were to make a choice it would be Villar.

But Andal Jr. said he was praising Aquino because the latter’s family had defeated the strongman President Ferdinand Marcos.

“Noynoy would be our instrument to achieve justice,” he said.

Relaxed

He was relaxed and smiled as he gave his most expansive comments to the media since being arrested last year for the slaughter of 57 people.

“I had no role in what happened,” he told the reporters.

He gave a variety of scenarios as to who may have been behind the Nov. 23 massacre in Maguindanao, where his family had dominated politics for over a decade.

The family is accused of orchestrating the killings to stop a rival politician, Esmael Mangudadatu, from running against Andal Jr. for the post of Maguindanao governor in the May 10 national elections.

Andal Sr. was grooming his namesake to succeed him and the son is accused of leading 100 gunmen in carrying out the murders.

Among the victims were the wife and two sisters of Mangudadatu, along with 32 journalists traveling with them in a convoy to register his candidacy for the Maguindanao governorship.

Roxas, senatorial candidates

Andal Jr. said the Ampatuans had already told all their supporters in Maguindanao to support Aquino.

Apart from Aquino, the Ampatuans are also endorsing his running mate Mar Roxas, senatorial candidates Juan Ponce Enrile, Tito Sotto, Miriam Santiago, Adel Tamano, Risa Hontiveros, Pia Cayetano, Sergio Osmeña III and Ralph Recto.

On their choices for party-list groups, Ampatuan mentioned Anakpawis, Gabriela and TUCP.

Crude stunt

LP campaign manager Florencio “Butch” Abad assailed the police for allowing the younger Andal to hold the press conference.

“How can a dangerous prisoner like (Andal Jr.) be allowed to hold a press conference inside a high security prison without the Arroyo regime being complicit in it? And who is expected to be the prime beneficiary of this stunt other than the candidate originally endorsed by Andal Jr.?” Abad said.

Arroyo allowed private army

Until the massacre, the Ampatuans had been close political allies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and were used by her to contain Muslim fighters waging a decades-long insurgency in Mindanao.

As part of this containment strategy, the President had allowed the Ampatuans to maintain a private army numbering thousands, as well as massive amounts of weapons and ammunition.

“If this was a way for the Ampatuans to instantly repay the Arroyo regime for the legally questionable and undue haste by which two of their kin had been set free, it is a crude and reprehensible stunt,” Abad said.

He added that the stunt showed how low the Arroyo regime regarded “the people to expect them to believe such a cruel joke.”

Senior Insp. Lloyd Gonzaga, jail warden at the facility considered a Quezon City jail extension, said the press conference was requested by one of the Ampatuan lawyers on the phone. Reports from Niña Calleja, Gil Cabacungan, Philip C. Tubeza and Agence France-Presse

Maguindanao massacre families to appeal over dropped charges

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.

Alibi

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.

New witness in Maguindanao massacre surfaces

New witness in Maguindanao massacre surfaces
By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—They were pleading for their lives as they lay face down on the dusty feeder road.

Despite their cries for mercy, the leader of some 200 armed men just laughed as he brandished his “baby” M203 assault rifle.

In a snap, all the 57 people who had been taken at gunpoint from a checkpoint lay lifeless on the ground, under it, or in their vehicles in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.

This was how “Jesse” recounted what transpired on Nov. 23, 2009, when the 57 victims, including 30 from the media, were massacred by armed men allegedly led by Andal Ampatuan Jr., mayor of Datu Unsay town and a scion of the most powerful political family in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

In an interview with reporters somewhere in Metro Manila Tuesday, Jesse said he was one of seven “designated gunmen.”

The others were Andal Jr. himself, his cousins Kanor Ampatuan, Ban Ampatuan and Mama Ampatuan, PO1 Ando Masukat and one he knew only as Kudja.

The victims were members of the Mangudadatu clan—political rivals of the Ampatuans—their lawyers and the media workers. Some motorists who happened to be on the road at the time were also killed.

The Mangudadatu convoy was on its way to Shariff Aguak town to file the certificate of candidacy of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu who was planning to challenge Andal Jr. for the governorship of Maguindanao.

During the interview, Jesse said he decided to surface “to tell the truth.”

“I decided to come out because I want Datu Unsay (Andal Jr.) and Datu Kanor behind bars and to pay for the crime they committed,” he said.

Jesse said he was a member of a police auxiliary unit in Maguindanao assigned as a “special bodyguard” to Kanor.

Kanor, the vice mayor of Salibo, has been charged as a primary suspect in the massacre by the Department of Justice, along with clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., Andal Jr. and other family members.

A check by the Philippine Daily Inquirer with the Philippine National Police showed that Jesse was also charged in the multiple murder case.

Although state prosecutors have presented other witnesses in Andal Jr.’s ongoing bail hearing, Jesse was the first to admit direct participation in the carnage.

He is in the custody of a group helping the massacre victims’ families.

Sought for comment, Andal Jr.’s lawyer Philip Sigfrid Fortun questioned Jesse’s credibility, pointing out that he surfaced more than three months after the massacre.

In a mobile phone interview, Fortun said there were other witnesses who had claimed direct involvement in the massacre.

“This is but belated. Matters like this, which are supplied late, are not only suspicious but susceptible to accusations that he’s a contrived witness,” Fortun said.