Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Agra reverses ruling on Maguindanao massacre suspects

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on Wednesday reversed his ruling that cleared two members of the Ampatuan clan of involvement from the November 23 massacre in Maguindanao.

Suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan and suspended Mamasapano Mayor Akmad Ampatuan are once again included in the charge sheet after Agra found "probable cause" to pursue the case against them.

At a press conference at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Manila, Agra said his reversal was based on the motion for reconsideration filed by the private prosecutors last April 22.

Agra issued last April 16 a resolution dropping murder charges against the two suspects, saying the erstwhile ARMM governor was not in Maguindanao around the time of the massacre happened.

Agra's reversal came some two weeks after Executive Secretary Leandro Mendoza ordered the Justice chief to confer with prosecutors to determine if any important evidence had been overlooked when his controversial ruling was made.

'Tarnished image'

Lawyer Nena Santos, legal counsel for the families of the 25 victims, expressed delight over the reversal of Agra’s ruling, saying the "tarnished image of the DOJ has somehow been alleviated."

The motion for reconsideration was filed by families of 42 of the 57 victims in the gruesome massacre. A supplemental motion for reconsideration was later filed on April 30.

With the reversal, Santos said the prosecution can now take their focus back on the court proceedings being conducted by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221.

Santos said they are just awaiting Solis-Reyes' resolution of their two motions seeking to resume the multiple murder trail and strike off the names of several suspects in the massacre from the list of respondents.

The trial was temporarily stalled anew after the defense filed a third motion for recusation, asking Solis-Reyes to inhibit from the case for alleged bias and ineptness.

The prosecution is also asking the court to discharge suspects from the murder case since they would be turned into state witnesses. These individuals include Mohammad Sangki, PO1 Rainer Ebus, Police Inspector Rex Ariel Diongon, Police Inspector Michael Joy Ynes Macaraeg, and PO1 Pia Kamidon.

No change in position

Despite the reversal, lawyer Harry Roque Jr., who represents the 17 journalists, said his group would still push for the sacking of Agra as DOJ chief.

"The damage has been done. We have lost trust and confidence on Sec. Agra," Roque told GMANews.TV in a separate interview.

Roque advised Agra that it would be better for him to just "keep his hands off the case."

He likewise said his camp would still push through with the disbarment case it filed before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines last April 22.

Agra drew flak for his April 16 ruling, a move which also surprised public prosecutors working on the case. The prosecutors also walked out of their offices in protest of the ruling.

They then demanded Agra to take back his ruling, insisting it was "null and void" because the prosecution camp was not furnished copies of the Ampatuans' petition for review — which was the basis for Agra's April 16 decision.

The prosecution said the failure to give copies of the petition for review was in violation of the National Prosecution Service (NPS) Rules of Procedures.

"Since the April 16, 2010 resolution was rendered in gross violation of... complainants' Constitutional right to due process, it is null and void, and should be vacated," the petition read.

Not guilty plea

Hearing of the multiple murder case has been transferred from the Philippine National Custodial Center at Camp Crame in Quezon City to Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City.

Six members of the Ampatuan clan, including its clan patriarch, as well as more than 40 police officers are currently detained at the Quezon City Jail Annex, inside Camp Bagong Diwa.

Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 11 policemen have earlier pleaded not guilty to 57 counts of murder in connection with the mass slaughter in Ampatuan town. — Mark MerueƱas and Andreo Calonzo/RSJ, GMANews.TV

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