COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 21 December) – Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu is asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct unscheduled visits at the Bicutan jail where the accused masterminds behind the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre are detained, as he expressed fears that what is happening in the New Bilibid Prison – where convicted druglords and the wealthy are given access to perks and luxuries – is likely happening in Bicutan as well.
Mangudadatu, whose wife, sisters and relatives were among 58 persons massacred on November 23, 2009 by armed men allegedly led by his former political allies, the Ampatuans, said he received reports that the Ampatuans in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan are still in touch with their supporters in the province through mobile phones and the internet.
Before Mangudadatu made his appeal, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) had issued a statement on December 18 reiterating its call for authorities to “allow unscheduled inspections of the detention facility and to strictly implement the rules for detainees.”
The NUJP said Mangudadatu’s revelation that the Ampatuans, the principal suspects in the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media, “is of particular concern since it was made following the attempted assassination of prosecution witness Akmad Ampatuan, former mayor of Datu Salibo town, and the murder of another witness, Dennis Sakal.”
The NUJP said implication is that the accused “remain free to issue orders to their underlings.”
Mangudadatu said he received reports that suspects Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son Andal “Unsay” Jr. are still using cellphones and internet freely inside jail.
He cited the recent ambush-attack on former Datu Salibo town Mayor Akmad Ampatuan and earlier on Dennis Sakal earlier this month as part of the counter-attacks, where the prime suspects have access to make a command via mobile phone or the internet.
Sakal, a former close aide of Andal Jr. died in the ambush. Akmad Ampatuan, a nephew who turned state witness, survived the ambush.
“That is what I’m saying, that even before, they had command and power to initiate attacks despite their being inside jail. This is a serious concern. There must be unscheduled visits too,” Mangudadatu said.
The NUJP called on de Lima to “apply the same zeal she displayed in uncovering the (Bilibid) Muntinlupa scandal to ensuring that the detention of those accused of the Ampatuan Massacre are not, in any way, allowed access to perks and luxuries that less privileged detainees are deprived of and, more importantly, that may thwart the interests of justice.” (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)