Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Palace orders Agra to review decision clearing 2 Ampatuans

With a report from Ron Gagalac, ABSCBN News; Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Philippines - The Office of the President on Wednesday ordered Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to review with state prosecutors his controversial resolution absolving 2 members of the Ampatuan family from the Maguindanao massacre.

In a written statement from Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza, the Palace directed Agra to confer with prosecutors and ascertain "if any important evidence was not considered, presented, or available when his ruling was made."

After meeting with prosecutors, Malacañang said the "Secretary of Justice should publicly justify the final decision."

Agra's resolution absolving Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and Maguindanao vice-governor Akmad Ampatuan from the November 23 mass murder has been assailed not just by the opposition but even by state prosecutors and administration bet Gilberto Teodoro.

Families of the victims also publicly condemned Agra's decision, with some saying that the dropping of the charges could be part of a wider plot to rig the May 10 national elections.

'PGMA supports me'

On Tuesday, Agra said he believed President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo backed his decision to absolve 2 members of the powerful Ampatuan clan of any involvement in the massacre that left 57 people dead.

Agra had said he has yet to hear from Mrs. Arroyo since he issued the decision to drop murder charges against cousins Zaldy and Akmad.

"In this case, silence means approval unless there is an explicit directive to resign or report. I'd like to think that I haven't done anything wrong, there is no basis for me to be reprimanded or removed from my position," he told reporters.

The justice chief said he expected to reap heavy criticism for his decision to absolve the 2 Ampatuans. He added, however, that he feels hurt by rumors that he was bribed to issue the resolution.

"I don't know where that is coming from. Nobody ordered me. Masakit sa akin dahil yung pangalan ko na iniingatan ko ay nabahiran," he said.

He said he is considering filing charges against individuals who accused him of taking bribes.

Agra backtracks

Interviewed on Wednesday over ANC's Dateline Philippines before the Palace ordered him to revisit his resolution, Agra backtracked on his statements about the President.

On his statement that President Arroyo supports his decision, Agra said what he meant was that "she approves of my performance" as acting justice secretary, but not necessarily his resolution.

Agra said he would submit a formal memorandum to the President on his resolution absolving the 2 Ampatuans from the crime. He also said it was within his jurisdiction to rule on the motion for review of the accused, and that he was not required to seek the approval of the President in his ruling.

Agra said he would await the motion for reconsideration on his resolution, and that he may modify or reverse his ruling depending on the reasons and evidence in the appeal.

He said the lawyers representing the families of the massacre victims had 5 days within which to file a motion for reconsideration.

Agra also denied receiving a gag order from the Office of the President, saying Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza wants him to continue to reply and defend his position absolving the 2 Ampatuans.

The alibi

In his resolution, the justice secretary cited documents backing the 2 Ampatuans' alibi that they were not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre. The documents include plane tickets, phone records and affidavits that showed the 2 were not at the massacre site.

The Ampatuan clan was closely allied with President Arroyo until she was forced to publicly disown the family after the massacre.

Arroyo's spokesman Gary Olivar on Sunday rejected any allegations of impropriety over the dropping of the murder charges.

"It is obscene to insinuate that the president would interfere in the legal proceedings of a heinous crime like the Maguindanao massacre as a mere political accommodation to anyone," Olivar said in a statement.

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