Maguindanao massacre suspect's move 'a gimmick'

Subscribe Now July 13, 2011 at 09:02pm

Maguindanao Governor Ismael Mangudadatu, whose wife and relatives were among the 57 people massacred in November 2009, rejected the idea of allowing an Ampatuan scion to turn state witness in the massacre trial. Mangudadatu said former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) governor Zaldy Ampatuan's move "is all part of a gimmick" to escape liability in the mass murder of 57 people, including 32 media workers, in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town on November 23, 2009.

Zaldy said Monday that he would be willing to testify against his father and brother, Andal Sr. and Andal Jr., respectively, if the government accepts his offer.

Mangudadatu, however, believes that the move is a tactic of the Ampatuan clan so that Zaldy will return to his former position as Armm governor.

Zaldy has been suspended from post since he was arrested in relation to the massacre.

Mangudadatu feared that if the government allows the Ampatuan scion to do so, it might lead to the "whitewashing" of the case.

He said if the prosecution accepts Zaldy as witness, it is possible that his father and siblings will follow suit until only one family member remains.

Several members of the powerful Ampatuan clan and hundreds of their men are facing trial in connection with the gruesome murders.

Zaldy said he regrets the fact that he is the son and brother of the two suspects, Andal Sr. and Andal Jr.

His brother Sajid Islam Ampatuan, who was former acting governor of Maguindanao, is also in jail for same offense.

He said he was innocent of the charges against him as he was with then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when the massacre happened. He wishes to change his last name if the court allows him to be state witness.

But the prosecution said Tuesday that it rejected Zaldy's request to turn state witness.

Lawyer Harry Roque, counsel for 15 massacre victims' relatives, said the evidence of the prosecution is more than enough to pin down the accused.

"We object vehemently. He is most guilty and his testimony is not indispensable," Roque said.

Roque said that since the case against him showed he was part of a conspiracy, there was no need for the former Armm governor to be present at the crime scene.

He said even Andal Sr. was also not present at the crime scene when the killings happened.

"Since this is a conspiracy, the act of one is the act of all," he said.

Falling out

Reports said Zaldy had a falling out with his father and the other accused and that they were not on speaking terms for several months now even if they are detained in the same facility at the Metro Manila District Jail (MMDJ) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City.

The former Armm governor was also separated from the rest of the accused inside the detention cell, though authorities said it was mainly because of medical concerns as he was suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.

Jail authorities said Zaldy is now detained inside Cell No. 6, while his father and brothers are locked up inside Cell No. 1.

Roque said Zaldy's motive was questionable, adding that the latter seemed to be trying his best to evade the charges against him.

The lawyer said he believed that Zaldy's turnaround was part of the plan of the powerful Ampatuan clan to safeguard whatever was left of their power in Maguindanao, as well as their wealth.

He said he considered the former Armm governor as even "more dangerous" since he was more intelligent compared to his father and brothers.

Also, lawyer Nena Santos, counsel for Governor Mangudadatu, strongly objected to Zaldy becoming a state witness.

"Wala pa kaming natatanggap na official request (We have never received any official request). Kung mayroon man (If there is any), we do not need his testimony to prove conspiracy," Santos said.

Both lawyers said they have witnesses to prove that Zaldy was present in the meeting held days before the gruesome killings took place where the plan to block and attack the Mangudadatu's convoy was hatched.

Mangudadatu, who was then serving as vice mayor of Buluan town, was set to file his certificate of candidacy for the province' gubernatorial post but death threats led him to send his wife, Bai Genalyn, and several women relatives, accompanied by media workers, to file the certificate in Shariff Aguak town, where they were intercepted by gunmen, allegedly led by Andal Jr., and subsequently killed.

Among the nearly 40 witnesses presented so far by the prosecution, Lakmodin "Laks" Saliao was the first to claim that Zaldy was present in the meeting that was also held in his residence in Shariff Aguak, where the plan against the Mangudadatu was held.

Saliao was a long-time household helper of the Ampatuans.

Another prosecution witness, Kenny Dalandag also made the same claim but he was not able to testify in court as the defense camp filed a petition against him before the Supreme Court last week.

'No request'

Meanwhile, President Benigno Aquino III on Tuesday denied that Zaldy Ampatuan is requesting to become a state witness.

"The emissary that I have talked to said that he is offering all of this evidence or his testimony without any consideration being asked for," the President said in an interview in Roxas City.

"Being a state witness engenders immunity from suit, dropping from the charges and there is no such request from him (Ampatuan)," he added.

Aquino said he has tasked individuals to assess what the Ampatuan clan member has to offer and "whether or not it meets the criteria."

The President said he has never talked to Zaldy at all.

In Malacanang, presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said the government could not simply ignore the offer made by Zaldy to testify against his father and brother.

Lacierda said MalacaƱang will assess and study how much weight Zaldy's testimony could bear in the case.

"The perspective here is we are after the truth. We would like this case to be prosecuted expeditiously if there is any testimony that can help further the truth and enlightened what really happened during that day. That is the reason why we are looking at the testimony of the Zaldy Ampatuan," he said.

Lawyers and relatives of the victims have opposed the supposed offer of Zaldy.

Even Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Commission on Human Rights head Etta Rosales also expressed concern since Zaldy is considered as one of the principal suspects in the massacre.

But Lacierda assured that their assessment of Zaldy's testimony "is all in the framework of making sure that the truth will come out."

"We would like to assure the relatives of the victims that this all for the furtherance of truth and discover what really went on. And if there is anybody that we can give us direct evidence if Zaldy is offering that particular testimony then we will have to assess and to study," he said.

He admitted that the testimony of Zaldy remains "insufficient" at the moment. But he said the government is willing to see what other evidence the Ampatuan scion could proffer.

He also clarified that there is no further deal between the government and Zaldy aside from granting him protection.

"What he is asking is protection and it is not unreasonable request. As you know, there is reported strain between members of the Ampatuan family so that is the only thing that he asked," he noted.

The Department of Interior and Local Government agreed to secure Zaldy after offering to testify against his relatives.


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