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Political interference suspected after charges against alleged masterminds of Maguindanao massacre are dropped

CMFR released the following statement in response to a judicial order for state prosecutors to drop multiple murder charges against the alleged masterminds of the 23 November Maguindanao massacre:

(CMFR/IFEX) - 19 April 2010 - The order by acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra for state prosecutors to drop multiple murder charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan in connection with the Ampatuan massacre of November 2009, has understandably aroused suspicions of political interference.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar has described these suspicions and outright allegations as "an obscenity". But the real and current obscenity in this country is the fact that the president for whom Olivar speaks has become central to the major issues that beset this country, most particularly that of whether there will be a change in its leadership or more of the same despite the 2010 elections.

Why the country has reached this point is clear: Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has demonstrated time and again that no method is too mean and no tactic too low for her to use in her drive to remain in power, and that includes committing the worst travesties against the very institutions - whether the police, the military or the justice system - that sustain State power.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo would rather that the public forget it, but there is no denying that the Ampatuans were, and could still be, her political allies, and that their help could be crucial in insuring the victory of the ruling coalition's candidates at both the national and local levels.

The political imperative rather than the legal one is thus evident in Secretary Agra's attempt to justify his order. His predecessor had ruled that there was "probable cause" that the two Ampatuans were involved in the conspiracy to waylay, abduct and kill the 57 men and women in the Mangudadatu convoy last November 23.

Whether either Ampatuan or both Ampatuans were actually present during the massacre is an incidental issue. If they were part of the conspiracy, their knowledge of and involvement in its planning constitutes the "probable cause" that Agra's predecessor concluded existed as far as the two Ampatuans were concerned. It is that which must be established or proven false during the trial. Despite all this Agra still issued the order, thus the universal suspicion that the presidential palace told him to do so.

But there is not much point in belaboring the obvious. In the face of this most recent outrage against both justice and democracy, the media need to take this issue to the rest of Philippine society and to bring to the attention of the Filipino people the travesty that the Arroyo regime is once more poised to commit. The press too needs to support the public prosecutors protesting Agra's order, and it needs to engage law groups as well as the rest of civil society not only in condemning the order, but even more importantly, in demanding that he recall it. For this the press and everyone else must take to the streets if necessary.

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