DOJ Drops Charges vs Two Massacre Suspects
Mga aktibistang nagpapahayag laban sa makapangyarihang Ampatuan sa labas ng Department of Justice sa Maynila, Pilipinas sa Linggo, Abril 18, 2010. Ang mga Kagawaran ng Hustisya ay nagpapawang-sala sa pagpatay ng dalawang magkapatid na Ampatuan, dating gobernador Zaldy at Akhmad, na inakusahan ng pagpatay ng 57 kalaban sa pulitika at mamamahayag.
By JIM GOMEZ, Associated Press Writer
MANILA, Philippines– The Philippines’ Department of Justice has dropped murder charges against two members of a warlord clan accused in the massacre of 57 political rivals and journalists, sparking protests Sunday and bringing relatives of the victims to tears.
The Nov. 23 slaughter, which was condemned by the international community, was unprecedented even in a country known for election violence and political killings that have claimed hundreds of lives in the past decade.
Among the dead were more than 30 journalists and their staff — the deadliest known attack on media workers in the world. The killings elevated the Philippines to the top of a list of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.
At least 198 suspects have been charged in court with multiple murder, including members of the powerful Ampatuan clan that has ruled over southern Maguindanao province for years. Several more suspects remain at large.
The Ampatuans have been close political allies of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for years, helping her win elections in 2004.
Justice Secretary Alberto Agra said he has ordered prosecutors to remove the names of Zaldy Ampatuan, a former governor of a Muslim autonomous region, and his brother-in-law Akhmad from the charge sheets for lack of strong evidence linking them to the planning and staging of the carnage in Maguindanao’s Ampatuan township.
“There is no evidence to prove conspiracy and there is evidence to support their alibi,” Agra told The Associated Press.
Zaldy Ampatuan provided cell phone bills and airline tickets showing he was not at a Nov. 22 meeting where the killings were allegedly planned, or at the crime scene the next day, Agra said. Akhmad presented witnesses and pictures showing he was at a medical mission when the killings occurred, he said.
However, Agra rejected petitions from the principal suspect, former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., and his father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., to be cleared of the murder charges. Witnesses have testified seeing Andal Ampatuan Jr. leading gunmen in killing the unarmed victims as they pleaded for their lives.
Prosecutors have filed murder charges against the Ampatuans in a Quezon City court. The justice secretary must ask the court to approve his decision to drop charges against Zaldy and Akhmad.
Several relatives of the victims wept after learning of Agra’s decision, according to Harry Roque, a lawyer for the victims, adding that they plan to appeal the ruling.
“They wept not only for this injustice but also out of fear for their safety,” Roque said. “They cannot sleep now that the Ampatuans are being cleared.”
Several student activists protested outside the Department of Justice, carrying placards that called Arroyo and the department “coddlers of murderers.”
A media watchdog, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, blamed Arroyo and Agra “for this massacre of … justice, the rule of law, our basic rights and democracy.”
The indictment says the clan leaders conspired to ambush and kill members of the rival Mangudadatu family and their supporters, who were gunned down on a hilltop in Maguindanao. The attack apparently was aimed at preventing a Mangudadatu politician from challenging the Ampatuans’ control of the province in a gubernatorial election in next month.
The Ampatuans have denied the charges, and most of their armed followers have fled a massive crackdown in the province, about 560 miles (900 kilometers) south of Manila. Thousands of militiamen loyal to the clan are still in hiding, triggering sporadic clashes with government troops.
Last month, another court dismissed separate rebellion charges against the Ampatuan patriarch, four of his sons and several followers for lack of evidence. They had been accused of plotting an uprising after the government launched a crackdown on the clan when it was linked to the killings.
**Resigned Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera received death threats during her incumbency.
**Alberto Agra served as the President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo laywer during impeachment proceedings at the House of Representatives in 2006.
**The Ampatuans are close political allies of PGMA.
We Filipinos are not as ‘tanga’ as they think we are! The innocence of these two suspects must be tried and decided by the courts of law and not by an office under the President. As I strongly condemned the Maguindanao Massacre, I likewise strongly condemned the Department of Justice for this move.
“There is no evidence to prove conspiracy and there is evidence to support their alibi,” Agra told The Associated Press but “Witnesses have testified seeing Andal Ampatuan Jr. leading gunmen in killing the unarmed victims as they pleaded for their lives.” Where are the testimonies of these witnesses? Are they gone with Devanadera?
Andres Bonifacio, The Great Plebeian
1. belonging or pertaining to the common people.
2. of, pertaining to, or belonging to the ancient Roman plebs.
3. common, commonplace, or vulgar: a plebeian joke.
image from library.thinkquest.org/
Today, Nov. 30 is Bonifacio Day
Many Filipino nationalists think Andres Bonifacio, the Father of the Philippine Revolution, is a greater national hero than the intellectual, physician, poet, essayist and novelist Jose Rizal. An auto-didact, Bonifacio founded the Katipunan and was its Supremo. He started the revolution against Spain, against the advice of Rizal who wanted the revolutionaries to be better trained and armed.
Bonifacio launched a nationwide revolution anyway. He called for mobilization and simultaneous raids on Spanish installations. He declared the transformation of the Katipunan into a revolutionary government, with himself as president and commander in chief of the army. He formed a Cabinet. He appointed the Katipunan military leaders as generals.
Bonifacio won battles and lost some. Until the point when there were three major centers of revolt. Cavite was under the upper-class, educated Katipunero, Emilio Aguinaldo. Bulacan was under Mariano Llanera of the skull flag. And Morong was under Andres Bonifacio. Morong consisted of the present Rizal province and most of the present Metro Manila (except the Walled City and the present city of Manila).
Magdiwang vs. Magdalo
In Cavite rebels loyal to Bonifacio belonged to the Magdiwang faction. Its chief was Mariano Alvarez, an uncle of Bonifacio’s wife, the heroine Gregoria de Jesus. Emilio Aguinaldo’s brother, Baldomero, led the rival faction, the Magdalo.
To divide and weaken the revolutionary forces, the Spaniards made a show of being more impressed with Aguinaldo. They tried to initiate peace talks with him. This was of course insulting to Bonifacio.
As Emilio Aguinaldo won victory after victory, in relatively smaller battles than those that Bonifacio fought in Manila and Morong, the enmity between the Magdalo and Magdiwang grew. The rivals did not help each other in their military campaigns. The clash so heated up as to require the Supremo to go to Cavite to mediate between the two factions.
With only a few troops, Bonifacio entered Cavite province with his wife, his brothers Procopio and Ciriaco. Aguinaldo’s superior attitude irked the Supremo. The Magdalo men were so disrespectful, in anger he nearly shot one of them, Daniel Tirona.
But Aguinaldo also resented Bonifacio for acting “as if he were a king.” The meeting to end the rivalry between the Magdalo and Magdiwang factions was held in Imus. The Magdalo people spoke of rumors, unfounded allegations and the leadership of the Katipunan itself. Soon Bonifacio found himself having to prove that he was not running the revolutionary government like a monarch, that his government was republican and democratic. He told his detractors each Katipunero, no matter how lowly his rank, had a vote equal to that of any other man.
Political trap he did not see
Bonifacio was in a political trap he did not recognize. He agreed to resolve the Magdalo-Magdiwang rivalry and the leadership issue through an election—in Tejeros, Cavite. Despite the arrogance and rudeness of Aguinaldo’s men, despite his realization that the election was not proper because there were no Katipunan members from the other provinces, despite warnings that the balloting would be rigged, the Supremo remained so confident of winning. Before voting began, he solemnly asked everyone to respect the election results gracefully. Then he presided over the election.
Of course, Bonifacio lost to Emilio Aguinaldo, who was not even there. Someone suggested that Bonifacio be made the vice president. No one seconded the motion.
The election for lesser offices continued. Mariano Trias, who was supposed to be a Magdiwang and therefore pro-Bonifacio, was elected vice president. Position by position, other officers of the revolutionary government were elected, until Bonifacio was chosen director of the Interior. Before he could be proclaimed in that position, Daniel Tirona, the man Bonifacio had almost shot days, spoke up. He said the position could not possibly be held by a non-lawyer. He then nominated a prominent lawyer for the position.
Bonifacio demanded an apology from Tirona, who turned his back to the leave the hall. Bonifacio drew his gun and was about to shot Tirona but Artemio Ricarte, another Magdiwang man, who had been elected Captain-General, stopped the ousted Supremo.
People were walking out of the hall as Bonifacio cried out: “I am the president of this assembly and as president of the Supreme Council of the Katipunan, as all of you do not deny, I declare this assembly dissolved, and I annul all that has been approved and resolved.”
That next day, President Aguinaldo took his oath of office.
The tragedy of the revolution
Bonifacio and his supporters wrote the Acta de Tejeros, denouncing the election for being fraudulent. They accused Aguinaldo of treason because he was negotiating with the Spaniards. President Aguinaldo had Bonifacio arrested, tried—and executed.
STOP KILLING JOURNALISTS !!!
Together with the rest of the world, I strongly condemned the politically motivated November 23 abduction and killing of over 50 people, at least 25 of them journalists, in Maguindanao. It is a new low even for the Philippines. Not only its brutality, but the sheer senselessness of it as well qualify it for collective outrage and condemnation and the strongest call for the immediate apprehension, trial and punishment of those responsible.
I have posted in this blog my Filipino poem about what journalists are. Read it here