Ampatuan patriarch arraigned June 1

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/31 May) — Eighteen months after the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., will finally be arraigned on Wednesday, June 1, according to the Omnibus Order issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 last May 27.

But 21 others, including his three sons and a son-in-law, will not be arraigned with the patriarch.

At least 196 persons are facing trial for the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them from the media. The 58, led by the wife of then Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan, Maguindanao,  were en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak  on November 23, 2009, to file Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy for governor when stopped along the highway in Ampatuan town by armed men believed led by then mayor of Datu Unsay town, Andal Ampatuan, Jr. They were  later herded to Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman in the same town and there shot dead, most of them buried in three gravesites.

Andal Jr.. was the first to be arraigned. He pleaded not guilty.

The patriarch of the Ampatuan clan on May 18 asked the Quezon City court through his counsel that he be arraigned on May 25. No arraignment took place because Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of Branch 221 did not issue an arraignment order but last week said she would decide on the arraignment of Andal Sr. and others accused who had not been arraigned yet, on or before May 27.

According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR),  only 57 of the 196 charged have been arraigned since the trial began in January 2010. More than a hundred remain free, including some sons and grandsons of Andal Sr.

The 21 who will not be arraigned on June 1 had filed a motion to reconsider the earlier motion filed on March 24, 2010. The motion called for the inhibition of Reyes as presiding judge, the reconsideration of an earlier motion that found probable cause against them, the “recall of warrants of arrest issued against them,” and for alleged “lack of probable cause,” the dismissal of cases filed against them.

Aside from filing a motion to dismiss the charges against him,  Sajid Islam Ampatuan, the youngest son of Andal Sr., and his wife Leila Uy. filed a petition for bail on May 19 this year, claiming he “had been baselessly implicated in these cases even when there is no evidence on record showing that he participated in the so-called Maguindanao Massacre on November 23, 2009.”

Sajid ran and won the vice gubernatorial seat of Maguindanao in 2007, unopposed. He was the running mate of his father. When the father resigned in January 2009, he assumed the post of governor but just before the massacre, Andal Sr. reassumed the post of governor.

Sajid said in his six-page petition that the Quezon City Regional Trial Court cannot compel him to undergo arraignment just because he has applied for bail.

“In the light of the pleadings which were filed by Datu Sajid questioning the defects in the conduct of the: preliminary investigation; filing of Informations; issuance of warrant of arrest; his illegal detention and other serious violations of his constitutional rights, Datu Sajid hereby states that he does not want and cannot be compelled to be arraigned in these cases,“ the petition read.

According to a statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), a  group of policemen accused of involvement in the massacre filed through the Public Attorney’s Office a petition for bail last May 2011. In their petition, SPO2 George Labayan, SPO1 Elizer Rendaje, SPO1 Alimola Guianon, PO3 Ricky Balanueco, PO2 Rexson Guiama, PO1 Amir Solaiman, PO1 Ebara Bebot, PO1 Tamano Sahibal, PO1 Michael Macarongon, PO1 Mahamad Balading and PO1 Bensedik Alfonso said the “evidence of guilt against (them) is not strong and as such they are entitled to bail under the pertinent provision of the Constitution and the Rules on Criminal Procedure.  (MindaNews)