[PHOTO AT LEFT - GOVERNOR Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)]

MANILA, APRIL 18, 2010 (STAR) (Xinhua) -- The presidential office said on Sunday that President Arroyo did not influence the Department of Justice decision to drop charges against two members of the Ampatuan clan in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.

In a radio interview, Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar assured families of the victims of justice despite the DOJ decision to drop multiple murder raps against Governor Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Mamasapano Mayor Makmad Ampatuan.

"We can see no reason for the families of the victims to lose hope that they will be given justice... Let us presume good faith on each other's part. Let us presume that everybody is committed to the same pursuit of justice," he said.

Olivar said that "it is obscene to insinuate that the President would interfere for any kind of political or personal reason in the legal proceedings of a heinous crime like the Maguindanao massacre."

"However we may feel about this decision by DOJ, let us confine any debate to questions of law and fact, and let us reject baseless and inflammatory speculations. Campaign politics, no less than the sensitivities of the victims' bereaved families, should not be raked up in this tragic affair," Olivar said.

At least 57 people, mostly women and journalists, died in the Maguindanao massacre on November 23 last year. It is considered the worst election-related violence in Philippine history.


Massacre raps vs 2 Ampatuans dropped By Sandy Araneta (The Philippine Star) Updated April 18, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Alberto Agra cleared yesterday two members of the Ampatuan clan of involvement in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last Nov. 23.

Cleared of multiple murder charges were detained Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Mamasapano Mayor Akmad Ampatuan.

Agra directed prosecutors to remove the names of the two from the charge sheet.

Agra, however, said the charges against former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. remain.

In clearing Zaldy Ampatuan, Agra said conspiracy was not established. In his decision, Agra acted on a petition for review filed by the two Ampatuans.

“Existence of conspiracy was not proven and being relatives and having similar surnames does not mean there was conspiracy,” Agra said.

Agra also said documentary evidence proved that Zaldy Ampatuan was not at the crime scene at the time of the massacre.

“There’s no proof of conspiracy so it gave weight to Zaldy Ampatuan’s alibi. I cleared Zaldy based on the evidence he presented, consisting of plane tickets and cell phone records that he was not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre, and a witness who testified that he was not in Maguindanao at the time,” Agra said.

The DOJ chief said he cleared Akmad Ampatuan because the witness, Kenny Dalagdag, did not identify him.

“Second, because he was not included in the charge sheet of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP), and third because he had an alibi, that he joined a medical mission elsewhere at the time of the massacre,” he said.

He said prosecutors would formally manifest before Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes the exclusion of the two from the list of the accused.

“It will depend on the judge,” Agra said when asked if the two Ampatuans would be released.

Agra said he expected his resolution to spark a controversy. “I resolved the petition for review based on evidence before me and not because it is popular clamor or what,” he said.

Agra also directed the provincial prosecutor of Maguindanao to withdraw all charges of murder and frustrated murder against a group that included a key witness in the massacre.

Ordered dropped were the separate charges of murder and frustrated murder against Mokammad (also spelled Mohammad) Sangki, Salik Sangki, Abdila Makalingay, Akmad Sangki, and Teng Pigkaulan.

Mokammad Sangki was a key witness in the Nov. 23 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao in which 57 people - among them political rivals of the Ampatuan clan, their lawyers and supporters and at least 31 journalists - were shot dead and then buried in a hilly portion of Barangay Salman. Some of the victims were buried in their vehicles.

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

In a petition, Zaldy’s lawyer Redemberto Villanueva asked Agra to take a second look at the joint resolution approved by state prosecutors, which named the ARMM governor as one of those indicted for multiple murder.

Villanueva pointed out that Zaldy Ampatuan was not even included in the information filed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) of the PNP against more than 100 people implicated in the slaughter.

“The governor was in Davao City all along, and it was impossible for Kenny Dalandag, who claimed to be a member of the private armed group of Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., to insist that Zaldy Ampatuan was present at a conference purportedly held on Nov. 22 at a compound in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao,” Villanueva stressed.

He added that the only piece of evidence cited by the panel of prosecutors to justify the inclusion of Zaldy in the massacre case was the affidavit of Dalagdag.

He said the affidavit was only a “curative information that defies all physical laws since Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan was in Davao City from Nov. 20 to 22.”

“Curative information have been condemned by the Commission on Human Rights since the filing of such information against the accused does not cure the inherently illegal character of the arrest and the detention of those charged,” he said in his petition.

“This defies all physical laws and imbues Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan with the power of bilocality,” he said of Dalagdag’s affidavit.

“This is a complete fabrication since the governor was in Juan Luna Subdivision in Davao City from Nov. 20 to 22,” Villanueva said.

“Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan flew to Manila for a meeting in Malacañang on Nov. 23 and he took his flight in Davao City,” he said.

To back up his claim, Villanueva submitted evidence that included receipts from telecommunication companies that showed the ARMM governor’s calls were made in Davao City at the approximate time that Dalagdag alleged that Zaldy Ampatuan was in Shariff Aguak.

Witnesses also attested to the presence of the ARMM governor in Davao City.

“Despite such obvious lack of evidence against Zaldy Ampatuan, he was still included in the list of 107 individuals who were indicted on Feb. 5, 2010 by a panel of investigating prosecutors in their joint resolution for 57 counts of multiple murder,” the lawyer said.

He said Zaldy Ampatuan was arrested on Dec. 4, 2009 on the basis of an arrest warrant issued by Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, who was not authorized under the 1987 Constitution to issue arrest warrants.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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