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Resting of Ampatuan case premature, massacre fund misused in Philippines

The private prosecutors in the Ampatuan Massacre trial have asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to reconsider the state prosecutors' move to rest their case. They also allege that the funds for the trial have been misused.

In a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Leila de Lima and the state's panel of prosecutors dated 5 March 2014 lawyer and private prosecutor Nena Santos said "The resting of the case is premature," particularly against suspects Andal "Unsay" Ampatuan Jr., former mayor of Datu Unsay town, Maguindanao province, and Sukarno Dicay, former officer-in-charge of the Maguindanao Provincial Police Office.

On 28 February 2014, state prosecutors submitted to Branch 221 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court a manifestation that they were no longer inclined to present more evidence against all arraigned accused and were ready to rest their case against 28 accused.

On 27 March 2014, a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted de Lima as reacting to Santos's argument, telling reporters that "We (the state prosecutors and I) will still decide on that . . . We will discuss about it until I make my final decision."

Santos argued in her letter that the Court had not yet fully admitted the testimonies presented to prove conspiracy behind the massacre, pending the decision of the Court of Appeals on motions to discharge suspects who have been asked to become state witnesses.

Santos represents the families of 27 Ampatuan Massacre victims, including Maguindanao governor Esmael Mangudadatu, husband of victim Genalyn Mangudadatu.

On 23 November 2009, 58 people, 32 of whom were journalists and media workers, were killed in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, in a single incident of election-related violence connected to the political rivalry between the Ampatuans and the Mangudadatus.

Santos added that the Court cannot grant the resting of the case because Andal Jr.'s defense first has to present counter evidence. "It only created a false hope on the part of the victims and the public that the conviction will soon come to pass."

Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) lawyer Prima Quinsayas agreed with Santos's observation. In a text message to CMFR on 3 April 2014, Quinsayas said the state prosecutors should have at least waited for the Court's ruling on the Formal Offer of Evidence (FOE) in the bail petitions of Andal Ampatuan Sr., Andal Jr., and a number of accused police officers and the defense's presentation of rebuttal evidence. (Read FFFJ's full statement on the matter.)

FFFJ represents families of 17 massacre victims. It is a coalition of five media organizations. CMFR serves as its secretariat.

The judge hearing the trial, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, told the state prosecutors herself during a hearing on 12 March 2014 that "Under the rules, the petition for bail must first be resolved before the evidence-in-chief," and that the petition for bail will only be resolved after the defense presents rebuttal evidence.

Judge Solis-Reyes ordered the state prosecutors to instead rest their case only for those accused who have waived presenting rebuttal evidence.

DOJ undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, head of the department's team investigating and prosecuting cases of journalists killed, defended the state prosecutors' move in an interview over the news program Bandila aired on 26 March 2014.

"We had an opening to ask for separate trials for some of the accused whom we know, based on our evaluation, we have good evidence against," Baraan was quoted as saying in Filipino, referring to the new guidelines released by the Supreme Court (SC) on 10 December 2013 to speed up the trial.

Two of the guidelines compelled the Court to order the prosecutors to manifest against which of the accused they had no more evidence to present.

"I don't want to mention it in public … (but) there's a strategy here," the Bandila report quoted Baraan as saying.

Both Santos and Quinsayas said state prosecutors had been keeping private prosecutors out of the loop since the start of 2013.

On 3 April 2014, Judge Solis-Reyes rejected from the prosecution panel's FOE against the bail petition of Andal Jr. the testimonies of the following accused being eyed as state witnesses: former councilor Mohammad Sangki and former police officers Rex Ariel Diongon and Rainer Ebus. This was despite petitions still pending in the appellate court for those suspects to be discharged, as now allowed by the SC's new guidelines.

Massacre fund misused

In a separate letter Santos sent de Lima on 14 February 2014, the private prosecutor alleged that government funds for the trial have been misappropriated, based on several occasions that Santos mentioned in her letter.
In one instance, Santos alleged that the massacre fund was made to appear as if it was used to pay hotel costs for a meeting of private and public prosecutors with Baraan and Witness Protection Program (WPP) director Martin Meñez, when it was really the private prosecutors who footed the hotel bill of PHP120,000.00 (about USD2,600.00).

In the same 26 March report in Bandila, the DOJ said Santos's accusations were baseless, quoting Meñez who said that he already discussed the letter with Santos and showed her that the funds were properly accounted for.

But after TV Patrol's report aired, Santos told CMFR she was surprised Baraan and Meñez granted interviews for TV and that she was still planning to file a complaint with the Ombudsman, with other private prosecutors testifying for her.

In a letter dated 7 April, Secretary de Lima replied to Santos's complaint, saying there was no need for an internal investigation.

"Considering such satisfactory explanation (from Baraan, Meñez, and the panel of state prosecutors), it appears that you got your facts wrong and the issues in your letter are without basis," de Lima said in her reply.

Sought for comment, Santos told CMFR that in a one-on-one meeting in February, "SOJ (Secretary of Justice de Lima) said she will remove Baraan and Paula (executive assistant Paula Garcia, who Santos alleged Baraan assigned to handle funds and expenses) but will retain Emily (Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Emilia Victorio, Garcia's supervisor). As a classmate and a friend daw namin, we spare her. That is her decision – not mine."

DOJ records confirmed Garcia was "dropped from roll," effective 1 April 2014, because of her "failure to report to work." The last time she showed up for work could not be verified.

CMFR sent a letter on 19 May 2014 to de Lima asking for confirmation of or comment on Garcia and Baraan's removal. De Lima's office acknowledged receipt of the letter, but the secretary has yet to reply.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
Case history


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