By Gerry Baldo and Angie Rosales
By Benjamin B. Pulta
Original Story: http://www.tribune.net.ph/headlines/20091230hed1.html
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan has an airtight alibi that could get him off the hook in the mass murder charges: President Arroyo.
He cited in his affidavit that on the day of the multiple murders, he was in Malacañang meeting with Arroyo herself.
Reports on the day the Maguindanao massacre broke also had then presidential adviser on political affairs Secretary Gabriel Claudio confirming that the Ampatuans were in Malacañang at a meeting with the President.
Alibis ranging from a medical mission to a personal audience with the President can be found in the counter-affidavits of the four Ampatuan clan members who had opted to answer the multiple murder charges against them for their alleged involvement in the Nov. 23, 2009 murders in Maguindanao, where some 59 civilians, among whom were some 30 journalists, were massacred, allegedly on orders of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.
In separate sworn statements filed before the Justice department, the brothers Anwar, Sajid Islam and Zaldy Ampatuan, along with their cousin Akmad, all claimed they took no part in the murders. the four are the sons and nephew, respectively, of former ARMM Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. who is currently detained in a military hospital in Cotabato.
In his affidavit, one of the four, ARMM Gov. Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, insists that “even a cursory reading of the complaint will show that the accusation...is a sham.
“When the aforesaid incident occurred, I was with the President of the Republic in Manila. We were then discussing the manner by which the National Government, in cooperation with the ARMM,will be able to resolve the conflict in the province of Sulu. With us in the meeting were Congressman Yusop Jikiri, Munir Arbison and other political leaders.”
A day before the incident, on Nov. 22 when a witness said the Ampatuans planned the attack, Zaldy claims he was with a certain Ulama Acad in his residence at Juna Subdivision,Davao City, 300 kilometers from Shariff Aguak.
Another respondent, Sajid Islam U. Ampatuan, the acting Governor of Maguindanao said he was at the Comelec office in Shariff Saydona Mustapha from 8 a.m. up to 12 noon on said date with Bai Zandria Ampatuan to accompany her in filing her certificate of candidacy as mayor of the municipality of Shariff Saydona Mustapha.
“I never once left the Comelec premises until 12 noon. This will be confirmed by the election officer himself, Mr. Saliao Amba, “ Sajid said as he claimed the charges against him are a “reckless and impulsive prosecution.”
A third respondent,Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao mayor Anwar Ampatuan reiterated his claim that “there is no direct or indirect evidence describing (his) involvement in the said murder other than the bare and unsupported allegations of purported witnesses, the truth of which cannot be fully ascertained.
“I vehemently deny any participation whatsoever in the said murder contrary to the claims of the complainants and their supposed witnesses..”
Anwar claimed that in the early morning of Nov. 23,2009, he went to the Municipal Hall to attend the joint meeting concerning the discussion of the Sangguniang Bayan members and Barangay officials with regard to the proposed project of the Local Water Utilities Board.
He claims that the testimony regarding the incident is “not based on personal knowledge or is a mere afterthought, if only to involve all members of the Ampatuan in this baseless,groundless and malicious complaint against (his) family.”
The four Ampatuans’ cousin, ARMM Vice-Gov. Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan for his part, said that on the day before the massacre he was in his residence, preparing for a scheduled medical mission as several doctors from Manila will be bringing medicine and medical supplies that had to be sorted and put in order.
“I tasked several of my men to fetch the doctors and thereafter to bring the medicines and medical supplies,” he said as he claimed the medical mission was scheduled the next day, Nov. 23, 2009, which was held at the municipal gymnasium from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m.
“No direct or indirect evidence describing my supposed involvement in the said murder other than the bare and unsupported allegations of purported witnesses, the truth of which cannot even be fully ascertained,” he stressed.
A member of the Ampatuan militia had submitted an affidavit to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) detailing how Ampatuan Jr. carried out the murders on the orders of his father.
In his affidavit, Kenny Dalandag, a member of Ampatuans’ private armed group, said Ampatuan shot Jimmy Cabillo, a reporter of the Midland Review, one of the 30 journalists accompanying the ill-fated convoy of the Mangudadatus on Nov. 23.
Dalandag narrated how the elder Ampatuan gave the order to his son during a family gathering that was attended by the Ampatuan children as well as other relatives.
In Baguio City, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera yesterday warned respondents in the Maguindanao massacre, the Ampatuans and their corresponding legal counsels not to play with the law as she stressed that the government is dead serious in its pursuit against those who will be proven guilty of committing the dastardly crime.
Devanadera denied claims of the lawyers of prime suspect of the gruesome massacre, Andal Ampatuan, Jr. in saying that the Justice department has already prejudged the Ampatuans, along with the public, pointing out that the Department of Justice (DoJ) itself has issued statements detrimental to the Ampatuans during the first day of the DoJ panel of prosecutors’ preliminary investigations.
“If you recall, during yesterday’s (Monday’s) proceedings, some of the lawyers of some of the respondents, at the start of the preliminary investigations, manifested that they were not ready, they did not have their counter-affidavits notarized, they did not have their clients because of security reasons; and when the panel, especially the chairman Senior State Prosecutor Roseanne Balauag, said that then the cases for murder would be deemed submitted for resolution, all of a sudden there was a change of heart and some of the counsels requested reconsideration for them to be able to submit counter-affidavits, which, all along, they had with them,” Devanadera said.
“So, you know, we cannot be playing with the proceedings of the Department of Justice. The government is very serious about this. The government is serious in attaining whatever is necessary to have justice and the DoJ has given the respondents the due process that is guaranteed by the Constitution which is an opportunity to be heard,” she added.
Devanadera said that in the event Ampatuan, Jr. and other members of his family who are being linked by the government in the Maguindanao killings are found guilty by the State prosecutors by the end of their preliminary investigations, they have no one to blame but themselves and their lawyers whom she said were employing poor legal strategies.
“The hearings are set regularly and they are set very much ahead of time just so the respondents can prepare for their defense. If the respondents do not avail of all these opportunities, there is no one to blame,” Devanadera stressed.
Devanadera also mentioned that the issuance of transfer order by the local Cotabato court to some other persons involved in the case into its own justice domain would not be a problem in the ongoing separate trial proceedings held in the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
“The murder cases will proceed independently of the rebellion cases and the murder cases that are already in court are only those against Mayor Unsay Ampatuan. The other respondents’ cases are actually subject of the resolution that will be prepared by the prosecutors. So the issuances of the Cotabato court and the rebellion cases will not, in any way, affect the proceedings in the murder cases,” Devanadera explained.
The Justice chief stressed that the government will brook no delay in the disposition of cases against the members of the clan and their supporters who are suspected of having massacred 58 civilians and, in an attempt to hide the crime, of rising in rebellion.
As a result of the massacre and the subsequent rebellion, the President declared a state of emergency in Cotabato City, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat. She later placed Maguinadanao under martial law.
The President has since lifted martial law, but the state of emergency in the three provinces remains in force.
With Aytch S. de la Cruz and PNA
Original Story: http://www.tribune.net.ph/headlines/20091230hed1.html