Thursday, 6 May 2010

Agra reverses self on Ampatuan case

Joel San Juan
Business Mirror

THE Department of Justice (DOJ) has made a final ruling keeping suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his cousin, Akmad Ampatuan, on the multiple-murder charge sheet relating to the Ampatuan Massacre, on the strength of more evidence presented by lawyers of the victims’ families pointing to the existence of probable cause to indict them for conspiracy in the killings.

This developed as the DOJ announced a government-private sector aid package worth P55 million for the families of the 57 people who were waylaid and then executed on November 23 in Maguindanao by a group of more than 100 armed men that prosecutors said was led by Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

This aid package is meant for academic scholarships, health and medical assistance, and livelihood projects for the victims’ families.

The DOJ sourced P5 million of the aid package from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office. The P50-million balance will come from the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI), which will sign with the DOJ on Friday a declaration of commitment covering this donation.

Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said the victims’ families and their lawyers will be invited to attend the signing at the DOJ office of the declaration covering FPI’s P15-million donation.

In a new resolution signed on Wednesday by Agra, the DOJ reconsidered its April 16 resolution striking the two Ampatuans out of the charge sheet after lawyer Nena Santos last week presented a new witness who testified that he saw the two of them present at the November 22 meeting at the Shariff Aguak mansion of former governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. when the massacre was allegedly plotted by the Ampatuans.

In addition, Agra denied Santos’s motion for him to recuset from the Ampatuan case, and then cited National Prosecution Service rules to parry the charge by other private prosecution lawyers that he did not observe due process in issuing his first resolution last month.

Agra noted that the surfacing of a new witness who pinned down Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan was apparently a result in part of the measures taken by the DOJ to protect witnesses and strengthen the case of multiple murder, abduction, robbery and damage to property against the Ampatuans and over a hundred of their followers.

He recalled that the DOJ worked on the immediate transfer last month of the Ampatuans to a special detention center in Camp Bagong Diwa—a facility designed for high-risk prisoners like them—after the Supreme Court had granted the request by the National Bureau of Investigation for such a move.

During the DOJ flag-raising rites on April 26, Agra announced that he would issue a new resolution this week on the Ampatuan case.

But he eventually moved back his deadline to this week in deference to the then-plan by Santos and the other private prosecution lawyers to file supplemental motions on the case by April 30.

Agra said the additional and supporting evidence presented last week by Santos, plus new arguments raised by lawyer Michael Mella, indicated there was “sufficient ground to engender a well-founded belief that probable cause exists” against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan.

One witness—Kenny Dalandag—had previously tagged Zaldy Ampatuan as among those present at his father’s mansion when the crime was plotted on the eve of the mass slaughter, but his testimony was not given much weight after the suspended governor had managed to present Philippine Airlines travel records and his Smart cellular phone logs showing he was not in Maguindanao when the crime was planned or committed.

“There was dearth of evidence then to establish conspiracy against Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Akmad Ampatuan,” Agra said in recalling the findings of the April 16 resolution.

However, he said, the May 5 resolution took into account Santos’s presentation of “a witness who confirmed that he saw Datu Zaldy Ampatuan arrive at Shariff Aguak, to attend a meeting in the house of Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr., at around 11 p.m. on November 22. The meeting adjourned at around 1 a.m. on November 23, and Datu Zaldy Ampatuan left Shariff Aguak.”

Mella argued, meanwhile, in his separation motion that Davao del Sur would only be a four-hour drive from Shariff Aguak, and vice versa. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan’s Smart Infinity statement of account showed that he was in Davao del Sur on November 22 at around 7 p.m., and the next entries showed he was in Davao del Sur on November 23 at around 5:00 a.m.

As for Akmad Ampatuan, the resolution noted that “Santos was able to present a Sinumpaang Salaysay of a witness identifying him to have participated in the killings. More telling is the witness presented by Santos in her supplemental motion for reconsideration because this second witness was able to put him on the planning that transpired on November 22 at the residence of Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.”

1 comment:

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