Palace urges witnesses to accept gov’t protection, calls for speedy massacre trialBy Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang is calling on all witnesses in the Maguindanao massacre to accept the protection being offered by the government and on the Supreme Court to do what it can to speed up the trial of those accused of carrying out the worst case of election violence in the country’s history.
Edwin Lacierda, President Benigno Aquino III’s spokesperson, made the calls following confirmation of the killing of a third potential witness to the slaughter that claimed the lives of 58 persons, including 31 journalists and media workers. The body of the 58th victim was never recovered although some of his personal effects were.
Three relatives of witnesses have also been killed.
“I don’t think you can blame the government,” Lacierda said when asked at a Malacañang press briefing if any government official should be held liable for the killing of the witnesses.
“You know, it‘s unfortunate that it happened and I certainly condole with the family of the murdered victim but again the government offered security to these people,” he added.
Lacierda recalled that relatives of the massacre asked for security during a meeting with President Aquino in Malacañang several months ago. He said the President personally assured their security and those of the witnesses.
While some of the witnesses accepted security details, others, including the third fatality Alijol Ampatuan, didn’t, Lacierda said.
“We are urging all witnesses to accept the security offer,” Lacierda said. “Those who have been provided security are still alive.”
Lacierda said Alijol Ampatuan “politely turned down” the government’s offer of protection.
The second witness killed, Esmael Amil Enog, wasn’t included in the government witness protection program because he didn’t want to be kept in a government safehouse. He went missing in March and his mutilated body was only recently found.
Enog testified in July 2011 that he drove 36 armed men to the crime scene on the day of the massacre on Nov. 23, 2009. He said he was acting on orders of Alijol Ampatuan, said to be a distant relative of the principal accused members of the clan.
The first witness killed, Suwaib Upham, was shot to death before he qualified for the witness protection program. Upham, also known as Jesse, was killed in June 2010.
Lacierda said President Aquino during his meeting with the victims’ families even called up the chief of police in Maguindanao and the head of the Army unit in Mindanao.
“They have a concern about a certain official because he was allegedly part of the massacre. What the President did was to replace him,” Lacierda said.
“They told the President this concern. They told Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and that’s why we know the people they fear and that has been fixed,” he added.
Lacierda also urged the Supreme Court to push the judge handling the Maguindanao massacre case into speeding up the trial.
“We’re asking the Supreme Court right now under Acting Chief Justice Tony Carpio if they can find a way to hasten the Ampatuan massacre case without sacrificing due process,” Lacierda said.