Even as justice secretary says they have a new witness against Ampatuans
MANILA – Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, older brother of Maguindanao massacre principal suspect Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., on Sunday said he too is calling for justice for the victims of the gruesome killings.
“Justice in the Maguindanao mayhem must prevail,” said Ampatuan in a speech before members of media Sunday at Shariff Aguak, capital town of Maguindanao. “In this regard, and when the rule of law points to the guilty ones, then let the acts of punishment fall on them.”
“There is no sweeter condemnation than this to those deserving to be punished for the gruesome acts done,” added the ARMM governor.
The number of bodies recovered has reached 57.
“To our constituents in the ARMM and fellow citizens of the country, we are one in seeking justice for the victims of this incident,” he reiterated.
Meantime, Ampatuan talked about the scandal involving his family: “Much has been said about the Maguindanao incident but few words were spoken in defense of my family, particularly my younger brother Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr.”
He mentioned that a suspect is presumed to be innocent when charged with offenses unless proven guilty by reasonable doubt. “This vintage guarantee enshrined in the bill of rights is everyone's glowing hope.”
He added that he has complied with the democratic processes, and noted that he has been an ARMM governor for many years already. He said he continues to uphold the country’s criminal system even if his family is under siege for alleged involvement in the Maguindanao incident.
“However, what is overbearing is that I belong to the Ampatuan family and I, too, am seeking for justice not because of the accusations but because of my solemn duty to uphold the laws and the constitution to the best of my ability as the governor of ARMM,” he stated.
Ampatuan then called on the public and media to be fair, noting that “everybody must also respect the constitutional process.”
“I appeal to the clear conscience of the public for sobriety and to the media for fair and just reporting. I appeal further to some politicians not to add fire to the already volatile situation in Maguindanao just to pursue their personal and political interest.”
He also answered talks that he could be subjected to preventive suspension. “I feel that this is an arbitrary act on the part of some government officials that has to be addressed by the President herself. I will no longer question my removal as regional chairman of the ruling coalition. I understand the art of politics.”
He, Andal Jr., and their father Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr., were expelled from the ruling Lakas-Kampi-CMD party. (Read: Lakas-Kampi CMD expels Ampatuans)
He also said he wanted to show to the public his plane ticket which allegedly shows that he and Sulu leaders went to Manila on November 23, Monday and the day of the massacre, to meet with President Arroyo at Malacañang.
Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs Secretary Gabriel Claudio had earlier admitted meeting with the governor on the day of massacre. Claudio said the meeting was a discussion about Sulu leaders who Gov. Ampatuan wants the administration party to support.
Meanwhile, Ampatuan said he received word on Sunday that Lanao del Sur Gov. Bombit Adiong, Tawi-Tawi Gov. Sadikul Sahali and their mayors were barred from seeing him.
Palace officials reportedly ordered them not to proceed to Gov. Ampatuan's residence.
The ARMM governor questioned such a move which prevented him from meeting with his political allies and supporters.
He went on to say that his family is now facing “criminal prosecution.”
Meanwhile in Manila, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said authorities have found a new witness who could link the Ampatuans to the massacre.
Devanadera said: "We have a witness who can prove that before this (massacre) happened, he was in a place where the Ampatuans were giving instructions (on how to carry it out).”
The unnamed witness said he was present during the meeting of the Ampatuans prior to the incident, heard orders directly from them, and even participated in the killings, the secretary added.
Devanadera said earlier that Ampatuan Jr., who has already been detained in Manila, directly led the attack.
Devanadera also revealed the suspect's father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., the leader of the Ampatuan clan and governor of Maguindanao province, was among eight other members of the family under investigation and not allowed to leave the country.
Affidavits of alleged witnesses have linked Ampatuan Sr. and Zaldy Ampatuan to the killing.
Devanadera said that this means that they are now also being considered as suspects. Asked if other members of the Ampatuan family would be arrested, the secretary said "we are taking steps towards that."
Ready, says military
The military, meanwhile, said on Sunday that it is prepared to provide the necessary assistance to the Philippine National Police if authorities would order the arrest of Ampatuan Sr., the Maguindanao governor.
“The AFP would always support the Philippine National Police, especially because this is a law enforcement operation. We are playing a support role to them (PNP)…If there is a warrant of arrest, we will of course support the PNP is this undertaking (service of warrant),” said Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner Jr..
Hundreds of soldiers, backed up by armored personnel carriers, have been deployed in the province. They had backed Presidential Adviser on Mindanao Affairs Jesus Dureza and the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer when they took into custody Andal Jr. last Thursday.
The military also said they have already arrested several armed men from the checkpoints they installed as the result of the state of emergency declaration in the province.
Allies of Ampatuans, meanwhile, rallied to the Ampatuans' defense on Sunday.
About a dozen mayors and other local officials from 3 provinces -- all allies of the powerful Ampatuan family -- met with Gov. Ampatuan in his mansion while about 900 people, many of them children, rallied outside.
The hundreds protesting outside Ampatuan's mansion chanted "Long live the Ampatuans" amid concerns that many officials linked to the clan may be suspended from their jobs while authorities probe the massacre.
"Don't remove the Ampatuans from their positions," said one placard while another protestor held one saying "Ampatuans, not guilty".
Meanwhile. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has joined calls for a “swift and full investigation” of the gruesome killings.
“This monstrous crime must not go unpunished,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in a statement. “I condemn this outrage and urge the Government of the Philippines to act swiftly, using all the resources at its disposal to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The barbaric killings of the people in the convoy - journalists and citizens alike - were clearly an attack against democracy and democratic processes.”
Bokova continued: “Furthermore, the killing of journalists violates the rights of the Philippine people to be freely and fairly informed of political developments.”
Center For International Law (CenterLaw), meanwhile, announced that it will conduct a parallel investigation in cooperation with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
CHR Chairperson Leila de Lima and CenterLaw chair Atty. Harry Roque flew to Cotabato City Sunday morning. They were accompanied by 2 foreign forensic experts, Dr. Jose Pablo Baraybay of Peru and Christopher Cobb-Smith of Britain.
The forensic experts will reportedly stay in Cotabato City until December 10 to help with the probe into the Maguindanao massacre.
Baraybay heads the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, one of several Latin American forensic teams that investigate the abuses of former regimes.
Cobb-Smith, on the other hand, is a seasoned British inspector and investigator in trouble spots around the world. He has conducted probes into some high-profile human rights and humanitarian law violations in the Israeli Occupied Territories and those controlled by the Palestinian Authority.
The 2 foreign forensic experts with de Lima and Roque inspected the massacre site on Sunday and said many pieces of evidence could still be gained from the area.
March against impunity
Various groups, meantime, are set to stage a protest on Monday, exactly one week after the gruesome killings.
Journalists, lawyers, women's groups, church groups, students, teachers, women's rights advocates and other concerned citizens will march towards Don Chino Roces bridge (formerly Mendiola bridge) in Manila for the “March Against Impunity! March for Justice!”
“This is just the start of many multi-sectoral protests until the killings stop and justice for the victims is achieved. This is not only an issue of journalists, or an issue of election violence. This is a people’s issue, a human rights issue that everyone should feel strongly about," said Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary-general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. in a statement.
"We have to hold this government accountable for the climate of impunity and the systemic denial of justice for hundreds of victims of extrajudicial killings since 2001,” added Reyes. “No doubt, the failure of government to curb these abuses and bring the perpetrators to justice has emboldened killers all over the country.”
Joining Bayan in the march are members from the National Union of Peoples Lawyers (NUPL), National Press Club (NPC), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Karapatan, Gabriela, Solidarity Philippines, Gabriela, Pagbabago, and College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
The protesters are planning to stage a tableau of the 57 murdered women, journalists and lawyers when they reach Mendiola Bridge.
The horrendous massacre in Maguindanao that shook the world also prompted some groups to call for the reinstatement of the death penalty.
Former President Joseph Estrada said the death penalty is “needed” in this particular incident.
Estrada also criticized what he said was the slow action taken by the government.
Many of the groups joining Monday’s march, meanwhile, said they support the call for the creation of a special court to try the suspects which include Andal Jr., local police and paramilitary troops. They have also supported the call for an impartial investigation. With reports from Apples Jalandoni of ABS-CBN News and Agence France Presse