Ampatuan Massacre case: “strategy of delay and pattern of harassment”

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/25 July) – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima described it as “a strategy of delay and pattern of harassment.”

Eight months after the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao,  only 12 of the 197 accused of  killing at least 58 persons, have been arraigned and all of them have pleaded “not guilty.”

But of the 12, only one of six detained Ampatuans – Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr, the former mayor of Datu Unsay town – has been arraigned. The rest – his father Datu Andal Ampatuan, Sr., the former Maguindanao governor who ran for vice governor in May but was defeated;   his brothers Datu Zaldy, the suspended ARMM Governor; Datu Anwar Sr., the former mayor of Shariff Aguak who was elected vice mayor in May; Datu Sajid Islam, the former Vice Governor of Maguindanao later named OIC Governor and who won a seat in the provincial legislature last May; and brother in law Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan,  former mayor of Mamasapano who was elected vice mayor in May – have availed of petitions for review and certiorari.

Of the 12 arraigned, nine are policemen-suspects while two others are members of the civilian volunteers organization (CVOs).

Deputy State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon told a media forum here last Saturday  that the prosecution has filed 57 counts of murder now pending before the Regional Trial Court Branch 221.

The court will resume hearings on July 28, with the arraignment of other policemen-suspects.

Fadullon, who heads the special panel of prosecutors, said the suspects’ lawyers have filed cases against the prosecutors, including one for disbarment “but as far as we are concerned, the more important concern,” he said, is that the Ampatuans’ lawyers filed cases against the witnesses.

“Three cases have been filed not just against one person but the whole family. Let’s not forget we have had three deaths and arson,” said  Nena Santos, lawyer of the Mangudadatus.

The convoy of 52 persons, 32 of them from the media, was en route to the provincial office of the Commission on Elections in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao, to file the certificate of candidacy for governor of  then Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu when stopped by around a hundred armed men believed led by Ampatuan, Jr.

The convoy, along with others who happened to pass the highway in Ampatuan town at the wrong time that mid-morning of November 23, was herded 3.5 kilometers uphill in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, where they were killed.

Santos said that to date there have been “27 peripheral cases. Nanganak dahil sa kasong ito” (This case gave birth to 27 peripheral cases).

As of Saturday, Santos said, she has counted “99 motions filed by the (lawyers of the) accused” against “11 motions on our side, 11 versus 99.”

“Hindi po mabagal ang kaso, marami silang finile. (The case is not moving slow; it’s just that they’ve filed so many), Santos noted, adding “ hopefully no TRO (temporary restraining order) can be issued so that there can be a continuance of proceedings,” she added.

After listening to the enumeration of cases by Fadullon and Santos, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima remarked about what she referred to as “a strategy of delay and pattern of harassment.”

De Lima, as chair of the Commission on Human Rights under the Arroyo administration, had ordered a separate probe, including bringing forensics experts to the massacre site.

De Lima said she cannot give a deadline for the prosecution of the case because “gustohin man naming magkaroon ng deadline, napakadami ng motions” (much as we want to have a deadline, there are just too many motions).

A total of 197 persons have been implicated in the massacre, 28 of them surnamed Ampatuan although only about a dozen of these Ampatuans are prominent. Still, of the prominent Ampatuans, only the six listed above, are presently detained.

Sixty two policemen and four Army sergeants were also implicated in the carnage. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)