DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 April) – “Forget justice. Forget law. Forget democracy,” the one-liner first paragraph of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) statement against Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra’s order to drop multiple murder charges against suspended ARMM Governor Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and his brother in law, former Mamasapano mayor, later OIC Vice Governor Akmad Ampatuan, declared.
The Agra order, the NUJP said in its April 18 statement, “is proof that these principles do not, nay, have never existed under the Arroyo government, that this is governance not through the rule of law but through political expediency.”
“It is proof of what we have suspected almost as soon as it became apparent that a clan known to be one of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s closest allies might be linked to the worst election-related violence in our country’s recent history AND the worst single attack on the media ever – that this administration would do everything within its power to assure they would not be held accountable.”
At least 58 persons were killed, 32 of them from the media, when armed men led by Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr., stopped them along the highway of Ampatuan in Maguindanao, herded them up to Barangay Masalay and shot them dead. Six of the 58 just happened to pass the highway at the wrong time, the rest were part of a convoy that would have brought the certificate of candidacy for governor of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak, the next town after Ampatuan.
Ampatuan, Jr., was going to run for governor of Maguindanao.
“No probable cause”
The Manila Times.net reported on Sunday that the DOJ “on Saturday cleared—of murder charges—suspended Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and Mayor Datu Akmad Ampatuan of Mamasapano town.”
It added that the DOJ granted the two Ampatuans’ petition for review of the multiple murder case against them saying there was no probable cause.
“This Justice department action followed the granting—for lack of evidence—the two Ampatuans’ petition for review of the multiple murder case against them,” the report said.
Agra, interviewed by phone from Baguio, told Manila Times.net that the two Ampatuans “were cleared for lack of proof that they conspired with the other accused.”
“Basic reason is walang proof of conspiracy. Nagamit din na proof yung Smart Infinity and the Philippine Airlines ticket at ang sinabi ng isang witness,” Agra told The Manila Times in a telephone interview.
The Smart Infinity phone, the certification from the Philippine Airlines showing that on November 22, 2009, the suspended governor was in Davao City attending the Kanduli meeting with other regional governors, and the words of a witness convinced the DOJ that the governor is innocent of the charges.
Datu Akmad Ampauan’s petition for review was granted for alleged lack of witnesses to implicate him in the massacre.
Not for NUJP, Not for Agra
The NUJP said it is “not for us to proclaim the innocence or guilt of either Ampatuan for the November 23 massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers. But neither is it for Agra to do so.”
The NUJP said charges had been filed in court, the judge had issued a commitment order, those who were detained in Davao and General Santos cities had been brought to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, along with chief suspect Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan “Unsay” Jr., and several of the 197 accused.
“It should now be for the court to judge the innocence or guilt of the 197 persons accused of planning or carrying out the massacre,” the NUJP added.
“By issuing the order, which incidentally Agra had already announced earlier he was inclined to do, the man supposedly sworn to uphold justice in this country has preempted that prerogative of the court. Agra has hijacked the judicial process and subverted the very justice he should be upholding,” the NUJP said.
It noted that no legal expertise is needed “to know the alibi is the flimsiest defense in a criminal case. And yet Agra has practically pounced on this straw and used it to buttress his assertion that neither Zaldy nor Akmad Ampatuan should be charged because they were not there when the massacre took place.”
“But surely, this travesty is not Agra’s doing alone, for he could not have done this without the full knowledge and approval of his principal, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We hold Agra and Arroyo, personally, and this administration accountable for this massacre of the principles that define us as a country and as a people – justice, the rule of law, our basic rights, democracy. We call on the Filipino people to protest this outrage. More important, we call on the people to demand an accounting. We cannot let this pass. Or we might as well totally forget that we are one country, one people,” the NUJP said.
Families of the media victims of the Ampatuan Masascre will hold a press conference in General Santos City Monday morning.
Ma. Reynafe M. Castillo, daughter of one of the media victims, Reynaldo Momay (his remains have yet to be found but for his dentures), wrote in her Facebook account, “my heart is crying even if I have’nt filed a case against them. Where’s the JUSTICE in this country??? Agra should resign from his post. AGRA RESIGN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”” (MindaNews)