Plunder charges filed vs Ampatuans; Ampatuans not involved in massacre decry inclusion as respondents

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/15 January) – Relatives of  some of the victims of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre filed on Friday charges of plunder, graft and corruption and forfeiture against 25 members of the Ampatuan clan led by former three-term governor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., but relatives who are not involved in the massacre are seeking justice, claiming they should not have been included in the plunder charges.

Filed before the Ombudsman in Quezon City, the complaint noted that the Ampatuan clan, at least six of them detained for the November 23, 2009 massacre of 58 persons in Ampatuan, Maguindnao (32 of them from the media), ruled Maguindanao “for many years with an iron hand” and “benefited much from their ultimate benefactor, whom they invaluably helped win in the May 2004 elections by cheating for her – Mrs. Gloria Mapacagal-Arroyo.”

“While in power, the Ampatuans helped themselves to public money as they gained control of the public coffers in the province. With key members of the clans – including many of the  Respondents here – occupying top positions in all levels of governance in the province – they had the run of everything. Thus, what pertained to the public became part and parcel of the private preserve of the Respondents.  It could only have been plunder as never seen before in the Philippines after Marcos,” said the complaint filed by Ramonita Salaysay, widow of Napoleon Salaysay of Clearview Gazette in Cotabato City;  Editha Tiamzon, widow of Daniel Tiamzon of UNTV in General Santos City; Juliet Evardo, mother of Julito Evardo of UNTV in General Santos; Ma. Ciprisana Gatchalian, widow of Santos Gatchalian, Jr., of Metro Gazette in Davao City; Arlyn Lupogan,  widow of Lindo Lupogan of Metro Gazette in Davao City; Catherine Nunez, mother of Victor Nunez of UNTV in General Santos City; and Myrna Reblando, widow of Alejandro “Bong” Reblando of Manila Bulletin in General Santos City.

The complaint cited the three-part series written by MindaNews’ Carolyn O. Arguillas for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), published in several newspapers and the websites of PCIJ and MindaNews in late March 2010, which listed the property of the Ampatuans in Davao City, including the two grand mansions in Juna Subdivision, and the fleet of cars.

Charged were Andal Ampatuan Sr. Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan, Sajid Ampatuan,  Anwar Ampatuan, Yacob Ampatuan, Akmad Ampatuan, Rebecca Ampatuan, Jehan-Jehan Ampatuan, Laila Ampatuan, Baibon Shahira Ampatuan, Bai Farida Ampatuan, Ameera Ampatuan, Michelle S. Ampatuan, Alibai Ampatuan, Shaydee Ampatuan, Bai Zandra Ampatuan, Bai Honee Ampatuan,  Lady Sha-Honey Ampatuan, Bhanarin Ampatuan, Soraida Ampatuan,  Zandria Sinsuat-Ampatuan, Michael A. Sulaik, Joemar Ayunan Olimpayan and Kuzberi Lumenda Ampatuan.

Of the 25 listed as respondents, six are detained as suspects in the  worst pre-election violent incident in Philippine history: Ampatuan Sr., and Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., then mayor of Datu Unsay town; Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan. Datu Sajid Ampatuan (elected Maguindanao vice governor in 2007, appointed OIC Governor in January 2009 until Ampatuan Sr., took over as governor again shortly before the November massacre); Datu Anwar Ampatuan (then mayor of Shariff Aguak town),  and Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan (elected Mamasapano mayor in 2007, appointed OIC Vice Governor in January 2009). The latter’s son, Bhanarin, who assumed the mayoralty of Mamasapano when he was named Vice Governor, was also charged for the massacre but he remains at large.

The MindaNews-PCIJ report listed 35 landholdings of  the  Ampatuan Massacre suspects that were registered in the Davao City Assessor’s Office,  including the still unfinished mansion in the name of Ampatuan Sr.’s wife, Laila Uy Ampatuan, in Juna Subdivision, Matina, Davao City which has a floor area of 2,705 square meters, equivalent to that of 150 government low-cost housing units that average 18 square meters each.

Members of the Ampatuan clan with houses in Davao City but who are not involved in the massacre, decried as an injustice their having been included as respondents in the plunder case.

Engr. Zamzamin Ampatuan,  who held several posts under the Arroyo administration, the last of which was as Energy  Undersecretary, and who complained to media immediately after the 2009 massacre not to lump the Ampatuans together because “not all Ampatuans are bad,” told MindaNews in a telephone interview Saturday to, “please help us innocent get spared from unnecessary attack on our character.”

“It’s unfortunate that any Ampatuan would be target of mob and terroristic vilification,’ he said as he appealed to the media to “help correct the negative impression that this news has created about my wife and two brothers. My younger brother Kuzbari is an ordinary municipal employee trying to make ends meet. His wife is an ordinary school teacher. Their kids study in public school. My other brother who is mayor of Rajah Buayan doesn’t have any single property in Davao or any other big city. My wife never acquired any real property while she served as vice mayor of Matanog and she is struggling to overcome the dwindling income from our farms. We live simple lives. Our house in Davao, acquired many years ago from a friend courtesy of my father in law at very low price, is in a government housing area  and known as modest residential area. Please help me clear out this matter before we are lumped in the same negative light with those accused to have committed the 11/23 Massacre in the poor town of Ampatuan. Myself, my siblings and my immediate family have similar distaste of hoodlum politicians who had managed to enrich themselves with public treasure. Please help us innocent Ampatuans get spared from Hitleric attack on our character and our dignity which will be a great burden on our children and our children’s children. Please..” the engineer said.

Mayor Ampatuan,  married to Aloha, a daughter of Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., told MindaNews they do not own but are only renting the house in a government subdivision in Davao City.

He said it is an injustice that his name, the name of Zam’s wife and his brother Kuzbari’s be lumped along with the massacre suspects. “Hindi naman siguro ito makatarungan para sa amin” (I do not think it is just to us), as he expressed gratitude for the help for justice for the victims of the massacre “at sa mga miembro ng pamilya Ampatuan na hindi sangkot sa krimen (and the members of the Ampatuan family who are not involved in the crime).  [MindaNews]