Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ampatuans will all be replaced, says Palace

by Christine F. Herrera and Rey E. Requejo

Original Story:

THE MARTIAL law administrators have decided to replace all the sitting Ampatuans who were charged with multiple murder and rebellion for the massacre of 57 people to restore civilian rule in Maguindanao.

Replying to questions at Thursday’s joint session of Congress, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita and Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno invoked the rule of succession in filling the posts left vacant by the jailed Ampatuans.

“Under the Local Government Code, the elected officials, including Ampatuan patriarch Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and his sons ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., will be replaced by those second in command, who are also elected,” Puno said.

On Friday, police named 130 more respondents in their criminal complaint for multiple murder filed with the Justice Department over the Nov. 23 massacre.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said most of them were militiamen who were loyal to the Ampatuan clan.

She said the new respondents were identified by witnesses through file photos.

So far, the police have identified 183 suspects in the massacre, with only one of them, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., being indicted in court.

A spokesman for the National Bureau of Investigation on Friday said Andal Jr. played “the starring role” in the Nov. 23 massacre and finished off half-alive victims with his M16 armalite.

The chief of the bureau’s counter terrorism unit, Ricardo Diaz, cited sworn statements from four new witnesses.

Ampatuan Jr. has been tagged as the brains behind the massacre of the 57 people, including 21 women and 30 journalists, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, in the worst attack in the country’s history of political violence.

The victims included the family and supporters of Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan town, who had been in a convoy to file Mangudadatu’s candidacy for governor of Maguindanao when they were killed in an ambush.

Mangudadatu had sent his wife and sisters to submit his papers after he had received death threats from members of the Ampatuan clan, who wanted to retain power in Maguindanao, saying he thought his female family members would not be harmed.

The 30 journalists who were killed represented the highest number of reporters slain in a single attack anywhere in the world.

Devanadera said some respondents in the case were being considered as state witnesses.

“It all started from having witnesses from among them. That’s the reason we have positive identification as to who were in the massacre,” she said.

She said some multiple- murder respondents could also be indicted for rebellion.

At Thursday’s joint session, senators expressed concern that civil and social services in Maguindanao would be disrupted if the local governments ceased to operate.

“Based on the Local Government Code and the Organic Act, we could replace the arrested officials through the rule of succession, and the government can do it while martial is in place or even after martial law is lifted,” Puno said in response.

Devanadera assured the senators that the military authorities deployed in the provincial capitol and municipal halls were not there to take power but to secure the premises and to protect property and documents.

Ermita said the Ampatuans were facing such serious charges that they most likely would be unable to take part in the 2010 elections.

“They have been arrested, charged and incarcerated. I do not know how they can possibly run for public office and participate in the 2010 elections,” Ermita said. “Their movements are restricted.”

At the same session, Armed Forces Chief Victor Ibrado answered questions about an ambush Thursday night on a military convoy carrying high-powered firearms and election IDs from an Ampatuan mansion.

When Senator Manuel Roxas II demanded to know why the Army was transporting evidence at night, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile told Ibrado to submit a full explanation in writing to the joint session about the ambush.

Enrile, who presides over the joint session with Speaker Prospero Nograles, also ordered Ibrado to submit a written reply to a text message that Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen sent accusing military men of desecrating the tombs of the Ampatuan clan.

Ibrado said no such incident happened.

“Still, make that official. Submit an official report to the joint session,” Enrile said.

As the joint session headed into the weekend, Nograles said the vote on whether or not to revoke President Arroyo’s martial law proclamation would likely take place on Tuesday.

“After everyone has said [his or her] piece and all issues have been fully ventilated, we all have to come to the end, which is to vote for or against the revocation of Presidential Proclamation 1959. We cannot debate on this issue until eternity,” Nograles said.

“If we can muster the quorum next week, we can end the debates and vote possibly on Tuesday.”

Nograles said the debates were important because Congress was exercising its constitutional mandate to act as a check and balance on executive power.

Devanadera said the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao was justified, rejecting claims that an actual clash between government forces and rebels was needed to prove the existence of rebellion.

“There is no need for actual clash to establish rebellion. Just like the Oakwood mutiny, there was no clash yet, it was a rebellion.”

Meanwhile, The Office of the Ombudsman has started a lifestyle check on Ampatuan Jr. and other members of his clan for allegedly amassing enormous wealth, including several mansions and a fleet of luxury cars from “so poor a province as Maguindanao.” With Florante S. Solmerin, Joyce Pangco PaƱares, Macon Ramos-Araneta

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