MANILA, Philippines - Department of Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on Wednesday reversed his April 16 resolution absolving two leaders of the Ampatuan clan from the November 23 Maguindanao massacre.
In a 30-page resolution, Agra said he changed his decision after assessing new evidence, including a new witness who testified that suspended Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Datu Zaldy Ampatuan and acting vice governor of Maguindanao, Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, participated in a meeting the night before the massacre where the decision was taken to stop the Mangudadatus from filing a certificate of candidacy.
Lawyers for the victims of the 57 people killed in the massacre earlier asked Agra to set aside his resolution dismissing the murder charges against Zaldy and Akmad.
Calls demanding Agra’s resignation were made after he issued the controversial resolution that would free the 2 Ampatuans. His resolution reversed the decision of the prosecutors to include the 2 Ampatuans as among the accused in the massacre case.
In his earlier resolution, the justice secretary cited documents backing the 2 Ampatuans' alibi that they were not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre. The documents include plane tickets, phone records and affidavits that showed the 2 were not at the massacre site.
The suspended ARMM governor said he was in Davao City during the supposed meeting while Akmad said he was in his home in Mamasapano.
A new witness, who claims to be a former civilian volunteer of the Ampatuans, told a select group of journalists last April 24 that he saw Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan meet with the clan's patriarch Andal Ampatuan, Sr. at his house in Shariff Aguak.
He said the meeting took place around 11 p.m. of November 22, 2009, or the night before the massacre.
"Sabi nila, ano ang meeting dito ama? Sabi ni Datu Andal Ampatuan, nag-meeting ako dito dahil sa politika. Iyong si Mangudadatu, Toto Mangudadatu, mag-file sila ng certificate of candidacy sa Amapatuan, patayin sila. Pati iyong mga kasamahan nila, lahat, ay patayin," the witness said.
(They asked, 'What's the meeting for, father? Datu Andal Ampatuan said, I called for a meeting because of politics. Mangudadatu, Toto Mangudadatu, they will file a certificate of candidacy in Ampatuan. Kill them. Kill all of them.)
The witness said all Ampatuans present at the meeting agreed with the clan's leader.
He said Andal Ampatuan Sr.'s sons and other lieutenants told him: "Okay 'yan ama. Nasa likod mo kami (That's good father. We're behind you)."
The witness, who is now under the protective custody of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), corroborated the testimony of Kenny Dalandag.
Dalandag, who is also in protective custody, was the first witness to admit that he saw Zaldy and his cousin, Akmad, attend the meeting at Ampatuan Sr.'s home on the eve of the massacre. -- report from Nelson Lubao, dzMM