Monday, 19 April 2010

Prosecutors defy Agra over order to clear 2 Ampatuans

Government prosecutors on Monday challenged the decision of acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra to clear two Ampatuan clan members in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao last year, saying it dishonors the institution’s mandate to dispense justice.

Chief State Prosecutor Claro Arellano led the protest over Agra’s order exonerating detained Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and cousin Akmad Ampatuan Sr., mayor of Mamasapano town in Maguindanao.

"We are deeply concerned that the resolution will all the more convince a long skeptical public that our criminal justice system is impotent when the accused are politically influential," he said in a statement read before Justice reporters in Manila.

Arellano said it pained them to publicly disagree with their superior’s order, but noted that while the Justice chief has the final say on cases filed at the department, they on the front line believed there is probable cause to indict Zaldy and Akmad.

"We pray and hope that… justice will ultimately be served to the victims of this tragedy. It is along this line that we earnestly and respectfully request Acting Secretary Agra to revisit this resolution," he said. "Otherwise, we dishonor the primary reason for which our institution exists and its very name: the Department of Justice," he added.

State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon said Agra had not consulted them, as a matter of courtesy, before he ordered the dropping of multiple murder charges against the two Ampatuans.

They only learned of Agra’s order through a newspaper report last Saturday.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and private prosecutor Harry Roque, legal counsel of some of the victims’ families, earlier slammed Agra for the exoneration order.

Clear conscience
Earlier on Monday, Agra said his conscience was clear, adding that he was not afraid to face the victims’ kin to defend his move.

"Anyway you look at the evidence presented to me, it will lead to the same decision," Agra said in Filipino in a radio interview on Monday.

He noted that while his department had found probable cause in the multiple murder charges against Ampatuan clan patriarch Andal Sr. and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr., there was "no evidence" that Zaldy and Akmad had conspired in the killings.

Agra said documentary evidence had shown that Zaldy was not at the crime scene when the massacre took place, while witness Kenny Dalandag had not implicated Akmad.

Andal Sr., Andal Jr., Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan are detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, along with several other suspects.

Agra lashed back at his critics, saying his decision was based on an objective review of records and not on politics and emotions.

But Arellano disputed Agra’s claim, saying a witness had positively identified the two as among those who had conspired to murder 57 people, 31 of whom were journalists.

He said the Rules of Evidence provide that positive identification by a witness prevails over a negative assertion.

"Interestingly and ironically, while Secretary Agra basically implies that witness Kenny Dalandag is very credible as to his positive identification of the other accused during the planning of the murders, he is not at all credible when he identified Zaldy Ampatuan," Arellano said.

He said it is for the courts to decide, not the Justice secretary, whether the evidence submitted by Zaldy to support his alibi was strong. — Sophia M. Dedace/NPA, GMANews.TV

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