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Accused in Maguindanao massacre to remain in detention despite dismissal of rebellion charges

(CMFR/IFEX) - Several members of a powerful clan in Maguindanao province, southern Philippines, who are accused in the abduction and killing of at least 57 persons, including 32 journalists and media workers, last 23 November 2009, will remain in detention despite the dismissal of a rebellion case against them.

A local court dismissed last 26 March 2010 the rebellion case against Andal Ampatuan Sr., Zaldy Ampatuan, Akmad Tato Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan and Sajid Islam Ampatuan and their armed followers. The five Ampatuans and two of the armed followers are facing multiple murder charges in connection with the November 23 massacre in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, approximately 950 kilometers from Manila.

Judge Vivencio Baclig of Branch 77 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) dismissed the rebellion case against the Ampatuans for lack of probable cause.

"The essential element of public armed uprising against the government is lacking," Baclig's order stated. "There were no masses or multitudes involving crowd action done in furtherance of a political end. So, even assuming that there was uprising, there is no showing that the purpose of the uprising is political, that is, to overthrow the duly constituted government in order to establish another form of government. In other words, the second element of rebellion is also absent."

The Defense counsels filed the motion for judicial determination of probable cause and the motion for deferment of transfer of custody of the detained accused last December 2009 and February 2010, respectively. The motions were heard jointly by Judge Baclig at the Quezon City RTC, where the case had been transferred from Cotabato City, southern Philippines.

Baclig also ordered the release of all the accused "unless they are held by a court of law for other lawful cause/s."

The Ampatuans' continued detention is pursuant to a 24 March 2010 order issued by Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City RTC admitting the Amended Informations in the multiple murder case against Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr. and several others. An "Information" contains the details of a crime, including the names of the probable perpetrators.

Last March 24, Judge Reyes ordered the arrest of 189 accused persons at large named in the Amended Informations and the continuing detention of the above-mentioned five Ampatuans as well as alleged private army members Takpan Dilon and Esmael Canapia, after finding the "existence of probable cause to hold the one hundred ninety-six (196) additional accused named in the fifty six (56) Amended Informations for trial on fifty-six (56) counts of Murder under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended." The Information for the 57th victim, UNTV anchor Victor Nuñez, was also filed along with the 56 Amended Informations, a private prosecutor said.

"A cursory reading of the Amended Informations sought to be admitted clearly shows . . . the names of additional accused who allegedly conspired with accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. in the alleged commission of the offense of murder on 56 counts. . . ," said Judge Reyes in her order.

The prosecution filed last 9 February 2010 the "Motion with Leave of Court to admit Amended Informations", naming 196 additional accused persons for the killing of the members of the Mangudadatu convoy led by Bai Genalin Mangudadatu, wife of Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu. Toto Mangudadatu was Unsay's rival for the gubernatorial race in Maguindanao.

Lawyer Nena Santos, who represents the Mangudadatus, their supporters, and some civilian victims expressed her joy over the order. "We are happy with the order of the court. The wheels of justice are moving, albeit not swift, but we are confident that we will get justice done once the other accused will be arrested and brought to the bar of justice," she told the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in a text message last 25 March.

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