Ampatuans linked to gunman’s death, says Roque

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 28 2010 11:30 AM | Updated as of Jun 28 2010 07:37 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Two witnesses are set to testify that Suwaid Upham or “Jesse” was killed by employees of the Ampatuan family, a private prosecutor in the Maguindanao massacre case said Monday.

In an interview with ANC’s Headstart, lawyer Harry Roque said police will present Monday 2 persons who will name 4 suspects in the killing of the supposed key witness to the Maguindanao massacre.

He said the 2 witnesses are now in the custody of the police and have submitted their respective written testimonies.

“The information given by the 2 say all 4 are employees of the Ampatuans,” he said.

Roque also said the suspects to the killing of “Jesse” will also be revealed today.

He refused to give details about the 4 suspects, saying they will only be identified by police until at least after the manhunt.

Police earlier eyed love triangle and clan war as possible motives behind the killing.

“It’s clear now. There’s no dispute that the person killed was the same person who offered to testify…and it’s clearly linked to his possible testimony to be given in court,” Roque said.

Upham is one of 7 alleged gunmen who perpetrated the massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao last November 23, 2009. In his March interview with Al Jazeera, Upham said the 7 included himself, Datu Unsay Andal Ampatuan Jr., Datu Kanor, Datu Ban, Datu Mama, a certain Kudja, and a police officer whom he knew to be Police Officer 1 Ando Masukat.

Upham said he went into hiding after Ampatuan Jr. had ordered the murders of several witnesses in the massacre even after the latter's arrest last November. He said he left an Ampatuan safehouse last January after Datu Unsay placed a $45,000 bounty on his head.

Upham was killed in Parang, Maguindanao last June 14, days before his scheduled return to Manila to apply to become state witness under the new justice secretary.

Roque, meanwhile, denied that he blamed the Department of Justice for Upham's death. He said he was merely repeating Upham's statement that he did not want to go to the DOJ office in Padre Faura"because he heard from his bosses that they [Ampatuans] controlled DOJ.”

A statement from the DOJ panel of prosecutors on Monday blamed Roque for Upham's failure to enter the witness protection program. It said the DOJ had twice tried to meet the witness at a place and time to be decided by Roque's group but had to cancel the meetings because "the exact places and times kept changing."

The prosecutors said it was Roque's decision to let the media interview Upham before he could enter the witness protection program, thus exposing him to potential danger. They also noted that Roque's belligerent attitude to the DOJ is "the obstacle to (a) complete harmony between public and private prosecution."

For his part, Roque said the DOJ should have been more flexible in dealing with the potential witness who had risked all in coming to Manila despite a bounty on his head.

He said he purposely allowed Al Jazeera to interview Upham to generate media interest in his testimony as well as allow the network to compare Upham's testimony with that of another massacre witness that was also interviewed by the network.

"Apparently [the DOJ] did not want to bother with him because otherwise, they would not have allowed the venue to get in the way given that they knew the serious nature of the testimony of this witness," he said.