Ombudsman accused of inaction on Ampatuans' reported corruption

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at Jan 15 2011 01:24 PM | Updated as of Jan 20 2011 10:51 PM

MANILA, Philippines - The counsel for the families of the Maguindanao massacre victims has accused the Office of the Ombudsman of inaction on reported corruption involving the Ampatuans.

Seven relatives of the Maguindanao massacre victims on Friday filed a plunder case against 25 members of the Ampatuan clan. Former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., massacre primary suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr., former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan, and their wives and siblings were included in the complaint.

The victims' relatives who filed the complaint want the government to freeze and retrieve the said assets.

Speaking on ANC's "The Rundown" on Friday, Atty. Harry Roque, counsel for families of massacre victims, said the Ombudsman should have moved to freeze questionable assets reported to have been amassed by the Ampatuans.

"I think there has been a complete abdication of the functions of the Ombudsman," Roque said.

He added: "Given reports on the property holdings of the Ampatuans, they should not just have investigated earlier. They should have frozen these assets. If by filing this case we are able to bring to the center stage the issue of why the Ombudsman has not done so, that would already be a victory for the victims."

In light of the filing of plunder charges, Roque said the Ombudsman has no reason not to act on the matter.

"It has been a year since the massacre and until now we have not closed the case of the Ampatuans. For as long as they have all this wealth, they will continue to use their resources against the witnesses, victims and the judicial system itself,” the lawyer said.

“It's not an issue of whether it will succeed but that it has to be done right now."

35 mansions in Davao alone

Roque said the complaint was based on published and forthcoming reports of the Commission of Audit and testimonies including that of longtime Ampatuan household helper-turned witness Lakmudin Saliao.

Saliao testified that the Ampatuans had disbursed up to P400 million to cover up the massacre, P32 million of which he claimed he personally distributed.

An investigative report of MindaNews journalist Carol Arguillas reveals the Ampatuans own 35 mansions in Davao alone, 8 of which are owned by Andal Sr., 16 by Andal Jr., and two by Anwar.

The Davao City assessor has no record of Zaldy owning any house, but he is believed to own a mansion in Juna Subdivision. His wife Bongnong, reportedly owns 2 houses in the city.

The complaint does not include the Ampatuans' assets in Maguindanao, Cotabato City, Sultan Kudarat and Manila.

"We are limited to properties in Davao City. We do not have access to property holdings in Maguindanao," Roque said.

Roque, meanwhile, voices fears that putting a freeze on the assets may be too late.

"Our worry is a year after the massacre we would be lucky if we can still freeze any of these assets. But at least we can bring the matter to the court of public opinion," he said. "There's no reason for the Ombudsman not to act."

Interviewed on the same program, Atty. Howard Calleja, counsel for former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, said he has yet to speak with his client, adding they have yet to receive a copy of the complaint.

Calleja said they are willing to cooperate with the courts.

"I'm surprised with this new case, but if this will include him (Zaldy) we would cooperate with the courts. We will be waiting for the complaint. We haven't received the complaint nor am I sure if it will be referred to me or not," he said.

Calleja said he has no knowledge of the supposed contentious assets belonging to his client.

"With regard to his assets I don't know anything about that."