MANILA, APRIL 22, 2010
(STAR) President Arroyo ordered yesterday Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to review his decision clearing Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and acting Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan of murder charges in the killing of 57 people in Maguindanao last year.

In a statement, Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza said Agra was told to confer with prosecutors to ascertain if any important evidence was not considered, presented, or available when he issued the controversial resolution.

“Then the secretary of Justice should publicly justify the final decision,” read the statement.

Earlier, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Raoul Victorino told reporters Mrs. Arroyo cannot intervene in Agra’s resolution.

“Since he is the secretary of Justice, he is a lawyer, he has the expertise on the matter and so the President respects that,” he said.

“Number two, as the case is still pending with the court, there is such a thing as sub judice, you cannot comment on a case which is pending in court and, therefore, the President – if my advice or opinion is sought whether she should make any statement on whatever action or decision the secretary of Justice has made, I will definitely advise that the President… should not interfere with the decision of the secretary of Justice.”

Only the court can dismiss murder case vs Ampatuans – retired CJ

Retired chief justice Artemio Panganiban said the court, not the Department of Justice (DOJ), will decide whether the murder charges against the Ampatuans would be dismissed.

Speaking to The STAR at The Peninsula hotel in Makati Tuesday, Panganiban said Agra’s resolution absolving Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan is merely a recommendation to the court.

“It is just, in layman’s terms, a proposal of the DOJ to dismiss the case,” he said.

Panganiban said the DOJ has no authority to dismiss cases against any accused.

“It is the court which has the final authority to decide on whether to dismiss it or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza said yesterday Agra’s dismissal of the cases is President Arroyo’s “debt service” to the Ampatuan family.

“Mrs. Arroyo is just paying a debt of gratitude to the Ampatuans who helped her win in the 2004 presidential election,” she said.

Maza said Mrs. Arroyo was behind Agra’s order to drop charges against Zaldy and Akhmad.

If some of the Ampatuans are not released, they might tell the public what they know about the alleged cheating in the 2004 presidential election, she added.

Agra was one of Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyers during the congressional canvass of votes for president and vice president in 2004.

He was part of the team of Romulo Macalintal, Mrs. Arroyo’s election lawyer.

‘Gov’t protecting Ampatuans’

Outraged relatives of the 57 people killed in the Maguindanao massacre fear that the government was protecting the Ampatuans.

The relatives and their lawyers hit the government for dropping Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from the charge sheet and allowing principal suspect Andal Ampatian Jr. to protest his innocence in a press conference at the Metro Manila District Jail in Taguig.

Andal Ampatuan Jr., then a local mayor, is alleged to have led 100 gunmen in intercepting a convoy of a political rival’s relatives, plus accompanying journalists and lawyers.

Lawyer Harry Roque, representing some of the victims’ families, told reporters yesterday he had applied for court proceedings to be postponed until July, when a new Justice secretary would have been appointed by the next president.

Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon said he had asked the court to order the warden of the Metro Manila District Jail to explain why the press conference was allowed.

SC orders Agra to explain dual posts

Agra was ordered by the Supreme Court yesterday to answer a petition questioning his dual designation as Cabinet member and solicitor general.

Midas Marquez, court administrator and SC spokesman, said Agra was given 10 days to submit his comment to the petition of lawyers Dennis Funa and Melanio Elvis Balayan.

The lawyers said Agra’s dual designation violated the Constitution, which prohibits dual or multiple positions in government.

Under the Administrative Code, the Office of the Solicitor General is autonomous from the Department of Justice, Funa added.

Anti-riot police to face rallyists at SC in Baguio

Anti-riot police will face protesting journalists at the SC in Baguio City tomorrow.

Members of the National Union of Journalists and Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club will rally at the SC to protest the dropping of murder charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan.

Wearing black t-shirts starting Wednesday, journalists in Baguio City want the SC justices to hear their complaints.

Gordon questions timing of Agra order

Bagumbayan presidential candidate Sen. Richard Gordon has questioned the timing of Agra’s resolution clearing Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan of murder charges.

Gordon said it was clearly a case of bad timing with elections just around the corner. He said the Ampatuans have been linked to alleged poll fraud in the past.

He said it would have been better if any ruling on the case was deferred until after the election.

The trouble, he said, is that the public again suspects that Malacañang exerted some form of pressure to release the two Ampatuans, so that now the government has to explain Agra’s decision.

Gordon spent the day yesterday campaigning in Basilan, which he had visited several times in the past.

Villar: Agra must show deference

Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manuel Villar Jr. asked Agra yesterday to show deference to the families and relatives of the 57 people killed in last year’s Maguindanao massacre.

“The fact that Secretary Agra’s own prosecutors came out in public to denounce his move says a lot about how the government is handling the case,” he said.

“Absolving the two Ampatuans is rubbing salt on the painful wounds left by the massacre on the victims’ relatives.

“This case is too heinous and too painful to swallow as a people and as a nation. Its memory will not fade away as the perpetrators are hoping.”

Villar warned the government against seeking a political solution to the case.

The nation will never forgive President Arroyo if the case is whitewashed, he added. -- Paolo Romero, Jose Rodel Clapano, Edu Punay, Jess Diaz, Artemio Dumlao, Mike Frialde, Christina Mendez

Massacre suspects plead 'not guilty' By Rhodina Villanueva (The Philippine Star) Updated April 22, 2010 12:00 AM

[Photo is loading... Policemen tagged in the massacre are escorted by jail officers to the hearing at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig yesterday. JOVEN CAGANDE]

MANILA, Philippines - Eleven of the 15 accused in the murder last year of 57 persons in Maguindanao yesterday entered a not guilty plea during their arraignment inside the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) building in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

The arraignment of four other accused was deferred pending the resolution of a motion filed by their counsel.

The prosecution, however, criticized the deferment of the arraignment of the other accused.

Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon said, “Filing a motion a day before the hearing will cause further delay in the proceedings. The prosecution should not be made to suffer.”

Counsels for the accused later said they intended to file a petition for bail during the court hearing presided over by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

The accused are among 197 suspects charged in the Nov. 23 massacre of 57 people, including the wife of Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan, Maguindanao and two of his sisters, two female lawyers and at least 30 media men who covered the supposed filing of certificate of candidacy of the vice mayor who will run for governor of Maguindanao to challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed charges against the patriarch of the Ampatuan clan, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his son Mayor Andal Jr. of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao; Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), acting Maguindanao Vice Gov. Akmad Ampatuan Sr., and several other relatives for the massacre of the 57.

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

The Ampatuans denied any involvement in the massacre.

The nine policemen, identified as Chief Inspector Herich Mansi Amaba, Inspector Michael Joy Macaraig, Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, Police Officer 2 Saudiar Ulah, PO2 Saudi Pasutan, PO2 Hernanie Saulong Decipulo Jr., Police Officer 1 Pia Kamidon, PO1 Rainer Ebus, PO1 Esprielito Giano Lejarso and Civilian Volunteer Organization members Takpan Dilon and Esmael Canapia, pleaded not guilty to 56 counts of murder filed against them.

The four other accused – PO3 Abibudin Abdulgani, PO2 Hamad Nana, PO1 Esmael Manuel Guialal and PO1 Michael Juanitas Mapsig –were also brought to court but their arraignment was deferred.

The police officers and CVO members were arraigned three months after Andal Jr. also pleaded not guilty to charges that he led police and government paramilitary personnel in the killings.

During the hearing, the prosecution also questioned the press conference held by Andal Jr. within the BJMP building last Tuesday afternoon.

“That (press conference) is highly questionable. We feel that he (Andal Jr.) should be treated just like any normal detention prisoner. If they are allowed, they are capable of doing it again. We will be filing a corresponding motion asking the BJMP officers to explain. This should not happen again,” Fadullon said.

Fadullon said that to prevent similar incidents from happening, possible sanctions should be imposed against the responsible jail officials.

He said the BJMP, particularly Deputy Jail Warden Lloyd Gonzaga, should explain the hastily arranged press conference where Ampatuan announced his supposed endorsement of Liberal Party’s presidential bet Sen. Benigno Aquino III.

Andal Jr. had earlier said that he supports Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manuel Villar and NP senatorial bet Gilbert Remulla.

“Why conduct a press conference without permission from the court or without any court order?” Fadullon added.

Quezon City RTC branch 22 Judge Solis-Reyes said she was not informed about the holding of the press conference.

Gonzaga said jail officials only granted the request of the lawyers of Andal Jr. to hold the press conference and denied that the BJMP is giving special treatment to the Ampatuans.

“The court did not issue prior notice that we can’t apply the same procedure we have been observing concerning allowing interviews of inmates. As far as we are concerned, the procedure is as simple as that. There is no need for a court order. They are just reacting that way because the accused (Ampatuan) is a high-profile inmate,” Gonzaga said.

Harry Roque, counsel for the family of the other victims of the massacre, said inmates, especially the Ampatuans, should not be allowed to hold a press conference especially in such a situation.

He said the act of the BJMP should not be tolerated. “We may be surprised to know that later, given the Tuesday incident, the accused have already been set free,” he noted.

Nena Santos, counsel for the Mangudadatu family, said they want the proceedings to continue.

“We don’t want any delay. Though we lost confidence in Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, Agra is not the Department of Justice. We still have confidence in the DOJ prosecution.”

Santos was referring to a recent resolution issued by Agra that cleared Zaldy Ampatuan and Akmad Ampatuan of the murder charges.

Agra cited documents presented by Zaldy and Akmad to support their alibi that they were not in Maguindanao when the massacre occurred.

Khadafy Mangudadatu, a relative of the victims, reiterated Santos’ statements and added that they are fearful that if there will be a delay, there is danger that they could lose their witnesses.

He said they would file an appeal to President Arroyo to dismiss Agra as justice secretary.

Relatives of the other victims also attended the hearing yesterday.

DILG probes BJMP officials

Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno ordered an investigation into the press conference of Andal Jr. at the BJMP.

Puno directed DILG Undersecretary for Public Safety Marius Corpus to find out if BJMP officials violated existing policies and regulations regarding the handling and custody of inmates.

Puno ordered Corpus to immediately coordinate with BJMP Director Rosendo Dial and find out whether lapses had been committed when Andal Jr. was allowed to hold the press conference at the Quezon City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig City.

“We’ll investigate if there were policies, rules and regulations that were violated in the conduct of the press conference, but as I said earlier, an accused still has rights to be respected, that’s why we have to be careful,” Corpus said.

Andal Jr. was recently transferred to BJMP custody at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City from his detention cell at the National Bureau of Investigation in Manila.

Andal Sr., Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan and the other accused were also transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa after they were earlier detained in military camps in Davao and General Santos City.

Meanwhile, Metro Manila police chief Director Roberto Rosales explained that Andal Jr. is the responsibility of the BJMP even though the bureau’s headquarters is located inside the sprawling 48-hectare camp of the National Capital Regional Police Office (NCRPO).

“My responsibility is the perimeter of the BJMP headquarters and the security of its surroundings, while the administrative management belongs to the jail officials,” Rosales stressed.

Rosales pointed out that media men can come and go inside the NCRPO premises “as long as they are subjected to thorough search and inspection.”

“I was not consulted on the matter (interview),” said Rosales, adding that he will not order any investigation because the incident “is not my concern.” With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Non Alquitran

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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