Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Philippines Justice Department recommends filing of murder charges vs. Ampatuan patriarch, others

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 9, 2010) – The powerful patriarch of the Ampatuan clan in the southern Philippines is likely to face multiple murder charges along with his sons in connection to the brutal slaying of 57 people, including at least 31 journalists in Maguindanao province last year.

The Department of Justice on Tuesday recommended the filing of charges against Andal Ampatuan Sr., the governor of Maguindanao; and 196 others for the November 23 massacre.

A report by the ABS-CBN television said an eight-man team from the Department of Justice led by Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera recommended the filing of the criminal charges against the patriarch and others who were implicated in the killings.

“The confluence of events before and immediately after the massacre took place led them to conclude that Ampatuan Sr., his son Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Datu Zaldy “Puti” U. Ampatuan, Datu Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan, Sr., Datu Norodin Ampatuan, and Datu Jimmy Ampatuan connived with the actual perpetrators,” the Department of Justice team said.

Police said the patriarch’s son and namesake, Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of Datu Unsay town, allegedly led some 100 gunmen in the gruesome killings in the province. Among those murdered were the wife and two sisters and supporters of Esmael Mangudadatu, the vice mayor of Buluan town who is running for governor of Maguindanao – a position being held by Ampatuan Sr. - in the May elections.

The journalists were traveling with Mangudadatu’s wife on a political caravan when the gunmen seized them in Shariff Aguak town and herded them to the next town called Ampatuan where they were brutally killed.

The Ampatuan and the Mangudadatu clans are bitter political foe in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region, whose governor, Zaldy Ampatuan, is a brother of Andal Ampatuan Jr. All three politicians, including other clan members and supporters, had been arrested in connection with the killings, but they denied involvement in the murders.
The DOJ panel said evidence showed the accused instigated the plan to ambush members of the Mangudadatu clan.

Witnesses identified have Ampatuan as among those who allegedly participated in the killings along with Kanor Ampatuan, Bahnarin Ampatuan, Mama Ampatuan, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan, Saudi Ampatuan, Jr., Ulo Ampatuan, Ipi Ampatuan, Harris Ampatuan, Moning Ampatuan, Mogira Hadji Anggulat, Parido Zangkala Gogo, Jun Pendatun, Kagi Faizal and Sukarno Badal.

“These respondents were plainly pinpointed as among those who fired their high-powered firearms which consequently ended the lives of their intended victims. Positive identification of a person being implicated in a crime, when categorical, resounding, consistent, and without any ill motive on the part of the eyewitnesses testifying on the matter, is given credence. Considering such positive identification of these respondents as direct participants in the commission of the crime of murder, they should be indicted,” the Department of Justice said.

The ABS-CBN which quoted the Department of Justice said there is viable evidence to prove that some members of the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines “dipped their fingers in the preparation and subsequent consummation of the despicable killing of the victims.”

“There is direct evidence that these respondents agreed to commit the crime. Their acts and the attendant circumstances surrounding the commission of the crime unveil a common aim that would make all of them co-principals in the crime committed. We can deduce from their communal conduct a common design, concerted action and concurrence of sentiments… All the conspirators are answerable as co-principals regardless of the extent or degree of their participation,” the Justice Department resolution said.

Aside from the murder charges, those who are accused are also facing rebellion charges for allegedly mobilizing supporters to resist, defy and undermine security forces investigating the murders.

Every 23rd of each month, journalists and human rights advocates, including families and relatives of those murdered, troop to a grave site in Maguindanao’s Ampatuan town to light candles and offer prayers for the victims of the massacre.

In January, widows and family members of at least 13 journalists who accused Major General Alfredo Cayton and Colonel Medardo Geslani of negligence and dereliction of duty in connection with the murders filed formal charges against them with the Ombudsman in Davao City.

They said that prior to the killings, journalists who were in the caravan requested Cayton for security escorts for fear that armed supporters of the Ampatuan clan would attack the convoy, but the general did not provide them and instead told them that it was safe to travel to Shariff Aguak.

They added that the massacre could have been prevented had Cayton provided security to the convoy.

The Mindanao Times reported that Myrna Reblando, whose husband, Alejandro Reblando, was among the journalists killed in the massacre, said: “We have only begun. It does not mean that just because Gen. Cayton and Col. Geslani were not accused by the DOJ (Department of Justice) prosecutors of murder that they should no longer be held responsible for the death of our loved ones. We still hold them criminally and administratively liable for their gross negligence and dereliction of duty. Had it not been for their inaction, our loved ones could still be alive today.”

The Philippine Army investigated the accusations, but cleared Cayton, then the commander of the 6th Infantry Division, and Geslani, former commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade in Maguindanao province, for any culpability.

Both Cayton and Geslani were relieved from their positions shortly after the massacre. Cayton was later promoted as Army deputy chief.

The Ampatuan clan is one of the most feared in Mindanao, but also the wealthiest in the impoverished province of Maguindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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