MANILA, Philippines?More than 20 witnesses, two of them directly involved in Monday's Maguindanao massacre that claimed the lives of more than 60 civilians, have come forward to testify against prime suspect Andal Ampatuan Jr., Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said on Saturday.
Interviewed by Vice President Noli de Castro on his regular tele-radio program, ?Para Sa Iyo, Bayan,? Devanadera said the witnesses sought the government's protection as they feared for their lives and those of their families.
She said some of the witnesses admitted they were reluctant to testify but still went ahead after seeing the government could provide them adequate protection. Others decided to speak up to ease their consciences.
?More than 20 have come forward and volunteered to be witnesses. We have taken more than 20 statements already," said Devanadera, speaking in a mixture of English and Filipino.
?These are real witnesses... and there are witnesses that can prove that before the massacre they were present at the place where the Ampatuan gave the instruction as to where the shooting should take place," she added.
Asked by De Castro if the crime was premeditated, Devanadera said the graves dug up by the perpetrators even before the crime showed they prepared for it and that there was an intention to kill.
Devanadera said President Macapagal-Arroyo instructed her to prosecute all those involved, regardless of their political stature.
?No let up, no sacred cow,? Devanadera said, quoting the President. ?Kilala mo naman si Presidente, napaka-impatient niya. We should not lose sight of our objective.?
Devanadera said the DOJ was not able to file the charges against Ampatuan on Friday as it was a holiday in North Cotabato. She said the charges will instead be filed on Tuesday next week.
She said the witnesses have been brought to General Santos City, where prosecutors were processing their application for the government's Witness Protection Program.
She also said she would not allow any local prosecutor to inhibit himself from the case without a valid reason just because they feared the suspects.
Devanadera said that based on the statements of the witneeses, more than 100 armed men were involved in the killings.
She said several Maguindanao residents have also been sending their prosecutors text messages about details of the massacre.
The justice secretary assured the public that the identities of people willing to help the government in the investigation will be protected.
Devanadera said more arrests will be made as soon as the police have finished their investigation into the involvement of other Ampatuans in the crime.
Meanwhile, National Bureau of Investigation Director Nestor Mantaring assured De Castro that Ampatuan Jr. was not getting any special treatment from the NBI, where he is detained.
Mataring said the NBI allowed only press photographers to take pictures of the suspect from a distance but not other journalists who wished to interview him. Also, the NBI has a list of relatives allowed to visit Ampatuan Jr., he said.
Mantaring said NBI doctors had conducted a routine physical examination of Ampatuan to determine his state of health.
Mantaring added that the NBI would not object to the request of Ampatuan's lawyer for a private doctor to examine Ampatuan but only if this is done in the presence of government doctors.