Civil case over Maguindanao massacre
MANILA, Philippines - Two years after the Maguindanao massacre, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will now be charged with a civil case for "aiding and abetting" the family allegedly behind the gruesome killings.
Lawyer Harry Roque, who is representing 15 of the 57 victims of the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre, said Arroyo empowered the Ampatuan clan to perpetrate the massacre deemed the worst election-related killing in the country's history.
"Gloria Macapagal Arroyo aided and abetted the Ampatuans. She gave them guns. She gave them resources. She issued the executive order that gave legitimacy to the private army of the Ampatuans. She also gave the Ampatuans influence to have a sense of impunity so that whatever they did, they would not be punished," Roque said in a radio dzMM interview.
Roque said Maguindanao Gov. Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu previously testified that members of the Arroyo Cabinet had tried to dissuade him from running in the 2010 gubernatorial election due to threats from the Ampatuans.
He said even the President warned Mangudadatu that the Ampatuans are violent "but nothing was done to give him or the journalists protection."
A total of 57 people including journalists and relatives of Mangudadatu were killed in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province on Nov. 23, 2009. The massacre caused then President Arroyo to declare martial law in Maguindanao and other parts of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao under the influence of the Ampatuans.
At least 197 people, including former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., are facing criminal charges for the massacre.
Roque said Arroyo should stand trial due to the principle of command responsibility.
"She was the highest official of the land and those who perpetrated the killings are soldiers and policemen. Under command responsibility, these are people who are under the jurisdiction of the president and she should have known what would happen and taken steps to prevent it," he said.
Weak justice system
In the interview, the lawyer said he is seeking P15 million in damages from the former President for his 15 clients. He said he decided to file the civil case since the criminal cases against the 197 accused continues to drag on.
"Wala pang linaw kung kailan matatapos itong criminal case na ito. The victims are not earning anything and they lost the breadwinners of their homes," he said.
Roque said weaknesses in the legal system allow criminal cases to drag on for an average of 5 years, according to a World Bank study.
He noted that in the case of the Maguindanao massacre, there are 197 accused not all of whom have been arrested or arraigned.
"While we have not run out of witnesses, they are required to give their testimony over and over again every time an accused is captured and arraigned. He has to identify the suspects and say they are among those who perpetrated the massacre or helped in the planning. Paulit ulit ang nangyayari. Binabalik ang mga testigo at may banta sa kanilang buhay," he said.
"The probem is really the justice system. We have to fix the rules of procedure para maging angkop kapag ganito karami ang akusado at nasasakdal," he said.
Roque said prosecutors are set to file a motion to ask that the case against those already arraigned should be prioritized and finished.
He cited the multiple murder case against Andal Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, who is believed to have led government militiamen and police in the massacre.
Roque said there is enough evidence to prosecute Andal Jr. "He should be allowed to submit his own evidence and let the court decide. This has never been done before but it is not disallowed in the rules of court," he said.
He added that Ampatuan's lawyers should also allow this especially if they believe that their clients are innocent.
The lawyer said Sen. Joker Arroyo's estimate that the Maguindanao massacre trial could last up to 200 years is way off. He said that with 57 victims and 197 accused, there are potentially 11,000 cases stemming from the massacre.
And if each case will last 5 years each, it will be "55,000 years before the trial is finished."