MANILA, Philippines — A Quezon City court has dropped a former vice mayor as an accused in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre case following his admission as a state witness by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Quezon City regional trial court branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes deferred the arraignment of former Sultan sa Barongis town vice-mayor Zukarno Badal and accepted the amended information discharging him as an accused.
In her February 13 order, Reyes ruled that Badal’s qualification to be discharged as state witness by the justice department must be respected. The former vice-mayor was admitted by the DOJ into the witness protection program on November 10, 2010.
“The court is of the opinion that said agency’s finding must be accorded with respect,’’ the judge said in granting the prosecution’s motion to exclude Badal as an accused.
State prosecutors have said that the former vice-mayor’s testimony and knowledge of the events surrounding the November 23, 2009 slaughter are necessary and can be corroborated by evidence.
They said that Badal was admitted into the DOJ witness protection program because he did not appear to be the most guilty nor had he been convicted of any offense involving moral turpitude.
The arguments were opposed by former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., his two sons and some relatives, who are primarily accused of planning and orchestrating the Maguindanao massacre. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Andal Jr. cried “prosecutorial abuse” charging the prosecution with serious mismanagement in handling cases as they claimed that seeking Badal’s exclusion violated the rules on the discharge of an accused.
They cited a pending petition in a Manila court on the propriety of Badal’s admission in the witness protection program. The prosecution claimed that the suit had already been dismissed.
The discharge of Badal brings to 194 the number of accused for the 2009 slaughter of 58 persons, including 32 mediamen.
The victims had joined a convoy of the wife of then Buluan town vice mayor Esmael Mangudadatu to Shariff Aguak to file his certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao.
All the victims were killed allegedly by members of the Ampatuan clan and their henchmen in Sitio Masalay, Salman (village) near Ampatuan town, where some were buried along with their vehicles after the carnage.