Media groups hit delay in petition for new freeze order on Ampatuan assets

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/02 December) — Two media organizations today expressed alarm over the “unwarranted delay and apparent lack of attention and negligence” on the part of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) in filing a petition for civil forfeiture with a prayer for a new freeze order with the Manila regional trial court on members of the Ampatuan clan and their associates.

In a statement today, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said the AMLC, through the Office of the Solicitor General, filed only yesterday, December 1, the petition.

“As of the close of office hours, we have not received confirmation from the OSG, the AMLC, or the trial court if the freeze order, or provisional asset protection order (PAPO), had been issued,” the statement said.

It noted that the six-month freeze order the Court of Appeals issued on the 597 bank accounts, 142 firearms, 132 motor vehicles, and 113 houses and lots in the names of 27 members of the Ampatuan clan and their associates expired today.

The statement quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as having said that the OSG had informed her that the trial court had issued a new PAPO.

“Efforts to verify this with the court proved futile, however. Nobody was answering phone calls to the court even before office hours could close at 5 p.m.,” it added.

“We view with great alarm the unwarranted delay and apparent lack of attention and negligence that the AMLC and the OSG had accorded this case,” FFFJ and NUJP said.

The two groups recalled that a week ahead of today’s expiry of the CA’s freeze order, they had warned government the Ampatuans might exploit the delay to “retake control of their enormous unexplained wealth to put pressure to bear on their trial for the Maguindanao massacre of Nov. 23, 2009, which claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 32 media workers.”

They urged all concerned government agencies, but especially AMLC, to take whatever steps are necessary to correct the “anomaly”.

Twenty-two Ampatuans are among the accused in the Maguindanao Massacre, considered the worst election related violence in the country’s history. Among the accused are former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his sons, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Zaldy Ampatuan, , and former Datu Unsay, Maguindanao mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

FFFJ and NUJP expressed fears allowing the Ampatuans to regain their bank accounts, firearms and other resources would give them a “formidable advantage.”

“It is imperative that this advantage be denied them to level the legal playing field and to help credibly conclude the trial of the accused in the Ampatuan Massacre,” they said. (MindaNews)