Sigfrid Fortun

Remulla: I met with Andal Jr., but only for security reasons

Remulla: I met with Andal Jr., but only for security reasons
By Christina Mendez
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Nacionalista Party (NP) senatorial bet Gilbert Remulla yesterday confirmed reports that he sought an audience with Maguindanao massacre suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr., not to court votes, but for security reasons.

“Yes I did. I do not deny it but it’s for personal and security reasons,” Remulla said during yesterday’s NP press conference in Pasay City.

Remulla was quick to douse speculations that he struck a deal with the Ampatuans, a stark contrast to his earlier campaign to seek justice for the victims of the grisly carnage.

Emotions ran high during the press conference, especially when fellow senatoriable Adel Tamano expressed his disappointment over the former Cavite congressman’s action.

Remulla, a former TV reporter, took up the cudgels for the massacre victims by dramatizing their cause in various provinces during the start of the campaign.

“Let me reiterate that my stand against the Maguindanao massacre is ever stronger than before. As a former journalist I condemned what has happened and I believe that the victims of the Maguindanao massacre has to be given justice and the prime suspects have to be tried completely,” he said.

It was at this point that Tamano, who was seated at the far end of the table, made public his sentiments on the issue.

Tamano admitted that he and some of their fellow senatorial bets were saddened by Remulla’s visit because the NP has been vocal in seeking for justice of the Maguindanao massacre victims.

He reiterated that he has been saying from the start, in his capacity as party spokesman, that the NP will never make any deals with the Ampatuans.

“We will never seek any endorsement from them because an endorsement from the Ampatuan who is a creation of GMA is an endorsement from GMA,” he said.

The two NP bets were seen almost glaring at each other, while the other NP bets – Gwen Pimentel, Toots Ople, Mon-Mon Mitra, and Martin Loon (representing detained Col. Ariel Querubin) – seated at the long table seemed oblivious of the clash between the two NP spokesmen.

Observers noticed that NP secretary general Sen. Alan Cayetano tried to pacify Remulla who was seated beside him.

After the press conference, Tamano admitted being upset but said that he was not mad at Remulla and only wanted to make sure that the NP bets were not compromised by the visit.

“I think, (it was for) my own personal safety. I think anybody would do that. I think as a parent (I have to protect my family),” said Remulla, a brother-in-law of Sigfrid Fortun, who is among the lawyers of the Ampatuans.

Asked if he was “marked” or “blacklisted” by the Ampatuans, Remulla said, ”Let’s leave it at that. Because it’s a safety and security concern.”

Remulla later appealed to the media not to make an issue out of it.

Agra breaks into tears but still sticks to order

Agra breaks into tears but still sticks to order
By Miko Morelos, Dona Pazzibugan, Christian V. Esguerra
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—He admits he’s a crybaby.

Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, in the eye of a storm over his decision to clear two members of the powerful Ampatuan clan of murder charges in what has come to be known as the Maguindanao Massacre, was in tears Thursday as he spoke about the public criticism that was hurting him and his family.

But he’s still sticking to his decision.

Agra also took pains to clarify that the Palace directive on a review of the case of Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan only meant a closer scrutiny of case records once private prosecutors had filed a motion for reconsideration.

Speaking before employees of the Bureau of Corrections at the national penitentiary, where he signed the new rules on parole, Agra said he was sorry that he was “on the verge of crying.”

“I was brought up to be a crybaby by my father, and I am just being true to myself,” he said in Filipino.

Agra said being in the headlines and pilloried by angry protesters were taking a toll on him and his family.

He said it pained him to see the name “bequeathed to me by my father” made the subject of snide wordplay—a reference to placards with the words “Agra-biyado” and “Agra-be” held up by protesters at the Department of Justice.

“That hurts me because I am a family guy,” he said.

He also said he was glad that his family was abroad, and pleaded with his critics to spare his loved ones from their anger.

Public outrage notwithstanding, Malacañang Thursday made it clear that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remained behind Agra.

Her deputy spokesperson, Gary Olivar, acknowledged that Agra’s controversial decision had its political cost on the unpopular President, but maintained that “the primary consideration is still what the law allows and requires you to do.”

“Sometimes, you make the legally correct decision and you have no choice if there are costs associated with it,” Olivar said, adding that Agra “continues to enjoy the full discretion and authority of his office with respect to the conduct of prosecutorial proceedings on the Maguindanao massacre case.”

3 options

Later in an interview with reporters, Agra said he had conferred with Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza on the directive for a review of the case, and was told that the justice department should pay close attention to the records attached to the motion for reconsideration.

“So they were not asking that based on the current records I have I should revisit my decision,” he said.

Agra said he was “standing firm” on his resolution on the Ampatuans, reiterating that it was solely based on evidence and documents presented to him.

“Until and unless a motion for recommendation is filed, I will stick with my decision,” he said. “If there is a motion for recommendation [filed], I have three options: Affirm my earlier decision, modify it, or reverse it.”

Agra said part of Malacañang’s order was for him to submit a weekly report on the developments in the Ampatuan case.

He said he was considering forming a new panel of prosecutors to review Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan’s case once private lawyers of the massacre victims filed a motion for reconsideration.

“Or I’ll look at the evidence again. But right now, I’m more inclined to form a panel. But of course, they will not be the ones who took part in the case,” he said.

Agra said he respected the protest rallies mounted by the families of the 57 massacre victims.

“I hope [their anger] wouldn’t reach a point where my life and the lives of my family are under threat,” he said. “My conscience is clear. I can still sleep soundly at night, albeit in shorter hours because of the heavy workload.”

Disbar him

The families of nine of the 32 media workers killed in Maguindanao in November 2009 Thursday formally sought Agra’s disbarment as a lawyer for issuing the resolution supposedly contrary to law and for deceit and gross misconduct in office.

The victims’ families represented by lawyer Harry Roque Jr. filed their petition before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines office in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

In his resolution which he issued at the close of office hours on April 16, a Friday, Agra ordered prosecutors to “immediately” amend the information filed in court and exclude Zaldy Ampatuan, the suspended governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr. from the murder case and to report back to him within five days upon receipt of his order.

But Roque said Agra should have dismissed the Ampatuans’ petitions for review from the start because these did not give the complainants a copy of their petition.

Roque also took Agra to task for violating the complainants’ right to due process by not giving them a chance to comment.

He said it was “basic and elementary” for any lawyer like Agra, to “first hear the side of the other party” before issuing a resolution.

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

Disregard of evidence

Roque also said Agra violated administrative rules for failing to seek the approval of Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano before issuing his resolution.

He said Agra’s finding that there was lack of probable cause against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan amounted to “unlawful, dishonest and deceitful disregard of the evidence.”

But in a statement Thursday, Ampatuan family lawyer Sigfrid Fortun claimed that Agra’s exoneration of the two Ampatuans was “based on evidence.”

Fortun played down the testimony of witness Kenny Dalandag, who was identified as a member of the Ampatuan private army, claiming that he saw Zaldy Ampatuan among those meeting in the house of clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. in Shariff Aguak in the evening of Nov. 22, 2009, the eve of the massacre.

He insisted that Zaldy was not in Maguindanao at the time, and that Zaldy’s cell phone records showed a call was made at 7:04 p.m. from Davao City.

Fortun also said Akmad Ampatuan was not included in the original complaints prepared by the National Bureau of Investigation on Dec. 11, 2009, and by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group on Dec. 7. 2009.

“How could Secretary Agra therefore order the indictment and continued detention of a person who was not even mentioned in the complaints filed by the NBI and CIDG?” he said.

For court to settle

Olivar acknowledged that the decision clearing the two Ampatuans could be seen as an “unnecessary aggravation” in the sense that it was something Agra could have left to the courts to settle.

“I understand, from the point of view of political expediency, you can make that argument,” he said. “But from the point of view of the operation of law, I’m not sure that that’s an argument that can be made or would be considered as legitimate.”

Olivar claimed that Ms Arroyo was not informed about the resolution before Agra made it public.

“I would imagine that this was also news to her when this first broke in the news,” he said, noting that Cabinet officials were not necessarily required to “clear everything in advance with her.”

‘Politics before justice’

Olivar assured the relatives of the massacre victims that Ms Arroyo “expects that the judicial system will prosecute the perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law so that justice will be served.”

But the human rights group Amnesty International (AI) expressed concern over the case, saying the dropping of murder charges against the two Ampatuans just before the national elections “smacks of placing politics before justice and human rights.”

In a statement, AI said the government must continue to pursue the case against the Ampatuans as part of its commitment.

“The Philippines must abide by its obligations under international human rights law to ensure effective remedy for victims of human rights abuses and their families, and to prevent impunity,” AI said.

It said the Maguindanao Massacre had put the Philippine government “under international scrutiny.”

AI also said allegations of poll fraud in 2004 had “cast a heavy shadow” on the next elections.

“With the elections coming up in May, the Philippine government needs to demonstrate that it will not tolerate impunity for human rights for political gain,” it said. With reports from Alcuin Papa, Michael Lim Ubac and Carla P. Gomez, Inquirer Visayas

Jail warden sacked, or was he promoted?

Jail warden sacked, or was he promoted?
By Jocelyn R. Uy, Miko Morelos
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Was he punished or promoted?

The jail officer who allowed Andal Ampatuan Jr., the prime suspect in the November 2009 massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, to hold a press conference in a high-risk prison on Tuesday appears to have been kicked upstairs.

In an order dated Thursday, Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno directed Senior Insp. Lloyd Gonzaga to relinquish his duties as deputy warden of the Quezon City Jail-Annex in Taguig City and carry on as chief of operations of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in the National Capital Region (BJMP-NCR) effective immediately.

Puno assigned Supt. Clement Laboy to replace Gonzaga “in addition to his duties as regional chief of staff of BJMP-NCR and concurrent deputy warden of the Quezon City Jail.”

“The order takes effect immediately,” read the document, a copy of which was given to reporters at Camp Crame national police headquarters.

Gonzaga’s relief and what appeared to be a promotion came on the heels of Puno’s order of an inquiry into whether jail officers had erred in allowing Ampatuan, the mayor of Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao, to hold the free-wheeling exchange with the media at the jail in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City.

Gross ignorance

Puno’s spokesperson Brian Yamsuan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that Gonzaga’s relief as deputy warden was a result of “his gross ignorance of normal jail procedures.”

“Possible administrative charges may be filed if investigation reveals that he or other officials have violated the law,” Yamsuan said.

During the Tuesday press conference, Ampatuan declared his family’s endorsement of Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

The incident became controversial not only because it was held in a high-security prison but also because Ampatuan used it to retract his earlier declaration of support for Nacionalista Party (NP) presidential candidate Manuel Villar.

Gonzaga had admitted that Ampatuan did not file a written request for the press conference, but said the latter had the permission of Chief Supt. Serafin Barretto, the BJMP-NCR chief.

In a statement issued Thursday, Interior Undersecretary for Public Safety Marius Corpus said that “in compliance with [Puno’s] directive, other jail officials found to have violated policies and regulations on the matter will be dealt with accordingly.”

Puno’s order stated that Laboy’s appointment and Gonzaga’s relief from his present assignment and his designation to the BJMP-NCR were in line with the provisions and implementing rules and regulations of Republic Act No. 9263 (or the 2004 Act professionalizing the Bureau of Fire Protection and BJMP).

The two officers were ordered “to clear themselves of all money and property accountabilities and to effect a smooth turnover of responsibilities prior to reporting to their respective posts.”

Lying low

Calls to Gonzaga’s cell phone went unanswered.

“I also told him to lie low for a while,” Barretto told the Inquirer by phone, adding that his office had yet to receive a formal order on Gonzaga’s relief.

According to Barretto, Gonzaga was only the officer in charge of the Taguig jail.

He also said Ampatuan’s holding of a press conference was not irregular, and that such an activity was “allowed before, way back during the days of the PC-INP (Philippine Constabulary-Integrated National Police, the precursor of today’s police force).”

Barretto cited other instances when high-profile detainees like former ARMM Gov. and rebellion suspect Nur Misuari, child rape convict Romeo Jalosjos, ousted President and plunder convict Joseph Estrada and former Batangas Gov. and murder convict Antonio Leviste held press conferences at a BJMP facility.

He reiterated that detainees and their lawyers only needed to request media interviews or press conferences and the BJMP would make security arrangements.

(Two years ago, the Inquirer was invited to a birthday lunch of Leviste, who at that time was being held at the Makati City Jail while awaiting the decision on his murder case. Reporters were frisked and eventually allowed to interview him with tape recorders and cameras.)

Ampatuan’s candidate

Asked why the issue had become controversial, Barretto said the question on who Ampatuan was backing in the elections threw everything out of hand.

“[The Ampatuans] were only seeking to clarify some issues related to their case at the Department of Justice,” Barretto said. “But when a reporter saw Andal Jr.’s baller ID, he was asked who he was supporting, and the man answered.”

Barretto said the BJMP had already planned security measures, including arrangements for possible interviews with the media, to be implemented in the jail, which they dubbed “Oplan Ampatuan.”

He said that like other detainees, Ampatuan still had rights to self-expression.

Despite the controversy, Barretto said the media would still be allowed access to inmates.

“But the one to approve the request would be the interior secretary,” he said.

‘Not me’

Sen. Edgardo Angara Thursday denied that he had masterminded Ampatuan’s press conference.

“That is completely ridiculous and baseless. I do not know anyone from the prison facility in Taguig. You can check my phone records, I have not made any calls nor written any letters to orchestrate the press conference for Andal Ampatuan,” Angara said in a statement.

LP senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros said on Wednesday that two lawyers identified with NP vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda had helped organize the press conference.

Hontiveros said one of the lawyers used to work for Angara and was now a member of Legarda’s staff, and that the other was “recommended by Senator Angara to be a member of the legal defense team of Ampatuan Jr.”

She added: “We have received reports that operatives of the NP were responsible for the latest smear job against Sen. Noynoy Aquino. They were the ones who rehearsed him (Ampatuan) before the press conference.”

Barking in all directions

But Angara dismissed the accusation and said it was unfortunate that the LP had “succumbed to barking at any direction to divert the issue of Ampatuan’s endorsement.”

“They said they have received reports that I was behind the press conference. I wish they examined its veracity first before lashing out with baseless accusations. As leaders of the country, we have a big role in nation-building, especially in educating our fellow citizens of the national issues and our legislative agenda,” he said, adding:

“And as such, we have to protect our credibility as a body. It’s not good for the public to see their legislators hurling stones at each other.”

Angara also denied reports that his political party, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), was backing Villar.

“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,” he said.

Angara called on the candidates to stop the “campaign gimmickry.”

“It is a disservice to our nation, and it derogates our democracy. We want our voters to cast an informed, educated vote, one that is based on platform and not on who seems to be the lesser evil,” he said.

Damage control

Hontiveros had also said it was Ampatuan’s legal counsel, Sigfrid Fortun, who arranged the press conference.

Fortun is a brother-in-law of NP spokesperson Gilbert Remulla, whose candidacy for the Senate has been endorsed by Ampatuan, she said.

“This is a classic attempt at damage control. It used to be fake psychiatric evaluation reports; now it’s a fake endorsement. What will they think of next?” Hontiveros said. With a report from Philip C. Tubeza

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

QC court junks rebellion raps against Ampatuans

QC court junks rebellion raps against Ampatuans
By Julie M. Aurelio
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Citing lack of evidence, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Monday dismissed rebellion charges against Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and six other members of his powerful clan in connection with the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people and ordered their release.

In an 18-page order, Judge Vivencio Baclig of RTC Branch 77 said that the prosecution committed abuse of discretion by “ignoring a clear lack of evidence to support a finding of probable cause.”

“The essential element of public armed uprising against the government is lacking. There were no masses or multitudes involving crowd action done in furtherance of a political end,” Baclig said.

There was no showing that the purpose of the uprising was to overthrow the duly constituted government in order to establish another form of government, and thus the second element of the crime of rebellion was also absent, he said.

“Absent the required probable cause for rebellion, the prosecution should not have proceeded to file the case against the accused.”

Baclig ordered the release of the Ampatuans “unless they are held by a court of law for other lawful causes.”

In Davao City, Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the Ampatuan patriarch and members of his family were facing other cases in connection with the massacre and could not be freed.

Because the Ampatuans are also facing multiple murder charges before RTC Branch 221’s Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, the accused would remain in detention while awaiting trial for the massacre, said acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra.

Agra said that Reyes had found probable cause in the multiple murder case to warrant the continued detention of the accused.

“That’s settled,” Agra said, adding that state lawyers would ask Baclig not to effect the release of the Ampatuans in view of Reyes’ standing order for their continued detention.

Lawyer’s plea

Sigfried Fortun, the Maguindanao governor’s lawyer, said that his client should be released because Reyes had not issued an arrest warrant for multiple murder.

The reason for this, according to government lawyers, was that the accused had already been under arrest.

Other members of the Ampatuan clan detained for rebellion are Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, Akmad Tato Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan and Sajid Islam Uy Ampatuan, Takpan Dilon and Esmael Canapia.

They, along with more than 20 others, were charged with rebellion by the Department of Justice for allegedly planning a rebellion after the massacre of members of the rival Mangudadatu clan who were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for governor.

Thirty journalists were among those slaughtered in the largest group of media people killed in one incident anywhere in the world.

The Ampatuans were arrested in early December last year following the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao, which lasted for eight days.

No control over police

Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, who served as martial law administrator, had testified that there was no more control over the police in Maguindanao and that police involved in the massacre no longer followed orders from the chain of command.

The prosecution anchored its claim of rebellion on four scenarios: The absence of prosecutors to litigate the massacre; massive formations of armed civilians; employees went on mass leave, paralyzing local government units; and courts were not functioning.

However, Baclig pointed out that there was nothing on record to support the scenarios.

The court noted that evidence on record showed that Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the governor’s namesake son and principal suspect in the massacre, was made to undergo inquest proceedings after he was taken into custody.

As to the supposed massive formations of armed civilians, Baclig said the photos submitted “hardly portray a menacing and violent armed mob that is poised to undermine governmental authority.”

No signs of hatred

“In fact, none of the exhibits will show that anyone of the protesters is armed,” Baclig said, adding that some of the placards used by the protesters even displayed statements such as “We love you Madame President” and “We want due process.”

“It is clear that these are not statements of hatred or anger with political purpose of toppling the present government; instead they are expressions of respect for lawful authorities,” Baclig said.

He noted that the supposedly nonfunctioning local government units were closed down by the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police, “without any justifiable reason.”

Baclig noted that the government even declared martial law and a state of emergency in the province, and said that “no armed group would be bold and daring enough to challenge the might of government forces deployed in the area during that time.”

In a motion for reconsideration, Datu Zaldy Ampatuan asked Reyes to junk its previous order naming him as one of the 196 respondents in the massacre case. He said there was “undue haste” in the prosecution’s finding of probable cause against him.

In a separate motion, the governor and his namesake son also asked Reyes to scrap its March 24 order including them in the multiple murder charge. With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Marlon Ramos and Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao

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.