DOJ chief rebuffs quit calls
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Alberto Agra rejected calls for his resignation yesterday, saying President Arroyo’s silence over his decision clearing two members of the Ampatuan clan in the Maguindanao massacre was proof of her support.
“In this case, silence means approval unless there’s explicit directive for me to resign or report,” Agra said in an interview in his office.
“I’d like to think that I have not done anything wrong so there’s no reason for me to be scolded,” Agra said.
Agra, in a resolution issued last Friday, absolved detained Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and his uncle Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan of involvement in the massacre of 57 people – including lawyers and journalists – in November last year.
Agra drew widespread condemnation for his resolution, including from state prosecutors who even walked out of their offices in protest.
The Palace has not taken a definitive position on the issue but has exhorted Agra and the prosecutors to quietly resolve their differences as soon as possible.
The DOJ chief clarified that he had not consulted with Mrs. Arroyo or with any official in the Palace before clearing the two Ampatuans.
“I haven’t discussed this matter with the President or anyone from the Palace. I haven’t been asked to explain. There’s nothing to explain. I am just doing my job,” he said.
“I’m taking all the blame. It’s my name, my resolution, my responsibility. It was my decision,” he added.
The DOJ chief also said he is open to making changes in his resolution – or even having it reversed – if a motion for reconsideration is filed.
Agra said he is willing to undergo lifestyle check to disprove allegations that he had been bribed into dismissing the charges against Zaldy and Akmad.
“There’s no money involved. We’re okay with lifestyle check. They might even find out that I have many liabilities,” he said.
He said the accusation has troubled him and his family deeply and that he is contemplating filing charges against his accusers.
Name calling hurts
Agra said his family has been hurting from the name calling stirred by the controversy.
“I’m just sad because the good name of my father has been dragged into this controversy. It hurts me because attacks have become personal but I just have to absorb them,” he pointed out.
He has been mockingly called “Agra-be” and “Agra-biyado” – a play on his family name.
“How can I prove to the public that I read the documents, and that I was not bribed?”
He said his wife had been sleepless the past few days and had been constantly calling him in Baguio where he was interviewing – as ex officio member of the Judicial and Bar Council – candidates for the post of chief justice.
He said his source of strength is his family, especially his daughter who is in San Francisco, California on an athletic scholarship.
Appeal to fiscals
As for the prosecutors who publicly defied his decision last Monday, the Agra reminded them of his powers as DOJ chief.
“That is their position. But I have the authority to review their resolutions, unless they are better than me,” he said. “It just so happened that I am sitting in this position. Maybe when it’s their turn to sit here, they can do what they want but for now I am the acting secretary.”
“I am not duty-bound to inform and explain to them my decision,” he said.
Agra said he hopes the fiscals would follow his order to file a motion with the Quezon City court to withdraw the names of Zaldy and Akmad from the charge sheet. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is handling the multiple murder case against the accused, including Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. and his son and namesake, who is mayor of Datu Unsay town.
The DOJ chief gave the prosecutors five days to comply with his order or face administrative sanctions.
“As far as I am concerned we should all go back to work and do our job,” he stressed.
He reiterated that he had found more credible the documentary evidence submitted by the accused than the testimony of witness Kenny Dalandag. The latter had testified seeing Zaldy at the house of the Ampatuans at a time when the massacre plot was being hatched.
“I weighed Dalandag’s testimony against the testimony of another witness and documents proving Zaldy was in Davao at that time. There has to be evidence to establish action. Having the same surname does not establish conspiracy,” Agra explained.
Malacañang, meanwhile, continues to distance itself from the issue and urged the DOJ chief to resolve the matter quietly.
Deputy presidential spokesman Rogelio Peyuan admitted that President Arroyo was alarmed by the reaction of the prosecutors.
“If they (prosecutors) are calling on their (Justice) Secretary to review his decision, they should meet and work together to avoid involving others who have nothing to do with this, especially President Arroyo, who is extremely busy with many things,” Peyuan said in a news briefing.
“They (Justice officials) all know that the President wants swift justice for the victims of the massacre,” he said.
He also urged Agra’s critics to first read the resolution, noting that many political candidates who have assailed the resolution have not even read it.
“The President is not blind to the reports and criticisms on this issue but the Palace will soon come out with a statement or recommendation on this issue,” Peyuan said.
He said it would have been better if the prosecutors had privately conferred with Agra regarding their concerns. “I’m not saying they should not face the media but they also have their responsibilities.”
“They should not just think of their gripes against the Secretary but also the interest of the country,” he said.
Two administration lawmakers, meanwhile, said the Palace has been very clear about its stand on the massacre and could not have been behind Agra’s resolution.
“We don’t want the public to think that Agra’s decision is the President’s decision. That would be most unfair for the President who wants nothing but justice for the victims,” said lone Antique Rep. Exequiel Javier.
“The President is the president of all and not of the few. She will never tolerate any injustice even if the alleged perpetrators are known political allies,” said Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez.
In Cagayan de Oro City, Liberal Party presidential candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III praised the prosecutors for defying Agra’s resolution and expressed bewilderment at Mrs. Arroyo’s silence.
“We support the prosecutors’ call for the Justice secretary to review the resolution that cleared the two Ampatuans of murder,” Aquino told reporters. “I find it puzzling that the President is hands off on the issue despite its seriousness,” he said.
Bangon Pilipinas standard bearer Eddie Villanueva said Agra’s resolution was worse than the massacre itself.
“If the massacre of the 57 civilians were horrible, this is far more horrible. Multiple injustice was done to the victims and their families,” he said.
“It appears that the appointment of the acting Justice secretary is really designed to fulfill the acquittal or dropping of cases,” he said.
Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino vice presidential candidate Jejomar Binay said Agra had to clear the Ampatuans in exchange for their silence over the alleged massive cheating in the 2004 elections.
“The DOJ could not make such a politically-sensitive decision without the consent of the woman in Malacanang,” Binay said. – Edu Punay, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Jose Rodel Clapano, Evelyn Macairan, Helen Flores