MANILA, Philippines?Sen. Rodolfo Biazon on Wednesday asked Malacañang why no arrests had been made three days after the slaughter of at least 57 people in Maguindanao province in the worst political violence in the country?s history.
?I am still wondering why so many days after evidence had been established as to the occurrence of such a dastardly criminal act and the identification of possible perpetrators and mastermind has been mentioned by many sectors, why is there no arrest made yet,? Biazon told the Inquirer.
?Is political consideration a major factor here considering Malacañang has admitted that both warring families were political allies of President Macapagal-Arroyo??
The rivalry between the Ampatuans and Mangudadatus was blamed for the violent deaths of three members of the Mangudadatu clan on Monday, along with 54 other people, including many members of the media.
The wife and two sisters of Vice Mayor Esmael ?Toto? Mangudadatu of Buluan town in Maguindanao were among those murdered by armed men who stopped their convoy on Monday while they were on their way to file his certificate of candidacy for governor at the Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.
The armed men were said to be from the clan led by Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.
In a phone interview, Biazon said it was apparent that the Palace was ?still handling (the massacre) with kid gloves.?
He also asked why the four police officials identified to be in the area where the convoy was stopped had ?not been arrested like any other criminal.? The four were earlier reported to have been detained by the Philippine National Police.
Dureza?s role questioned
Biazon also questioned why the Palace had tasked Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Jesus Dureza to oversee the investigation of the mass murder, describing the massacre as a ?serious police matter.?
Dureza met with the Ampatuans in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao on Tuesday afternoon.
?They committed to submit themselves to any investigation,? Dureza told the Inquirer by phone.
The meeting, held at the Ampatuan residence in Shariff Aguak, was attended by Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), his younger brother Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr. and the family patriarch, Governor Ampatuan.
But Dureza said he did not ask if indeed Mayor Ampatuan led the killers. ?I went there to tell them about the creation of the crisis management committee, and about the investigation,? he said.
Is the government afraid?
Commenting on the meeting, Carlos Isagani Zarate, secretary general of the Union of People?s Lawyers in Mindanao, said that it showed government ?weakness in the face of an unspeakable act of terrorism.?
?Is this government afraid? Or inutile? Or simply powerless against the powers-that-be in Maguindanao?? the lawyer asked.
Asked about the criticism, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters that Mayor Ampatuan and his followers should turn themselves in for investigation.
?It definitely will help if those who feel that they are already being considered as suspect for them to turn themselves in and cooperate with the law enforcement agencies,? Ermita said in a briefing.
?To prove they?re innocent, they should give themselves up rather than go against the law by not turning themselves in,? he said, adding that this will help defuse the situation.
Ermita dismissed claims that the Ampatuan clan, which delivered votes for Ms Arroyo in the 2004 presidential vote, was ?untouchable.?
?I don?t see why they should be considered untouchable. People should be given equal protection of the law,? he said.
Ermita said the ARMM governor should also cooperate in the investigation.
?It will be to the credit of Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, if being a regional governor, he will go above his personal interest and be cooperative in the conduct of the investigation to show he?s the man of the law, that he?s a leader that can be trusted and that he respects the Constitution and our legal system,? he said.
Ermita said the public should await the action of Dureza?s team. He said the team would ?identify those that will have to be summoned, or that will be subject of the order for them to be disarmed, to be taken into custody or against whom a warrant of arrest will be issued or charges will be filed.?
Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera told reporters Wednesday after a visit to the troubled region that state lawyers and prosecutors were still gathering evidence.
?I ask for more time to evaluate (the evidence),? she said. ?So far there?s no evidence of rape. There was also no beheading.?
?They might fight back?
Secretary Raul Gonzalez, chief presidential legal counsel, cautioned the government against hastily arresting the Ampatuans in the absence of solid evidence.
?If we use the iron hand on them, they might fight back. We should take precaution. These are not ordinary people,? he said by phone.
?We?re guided by the rule of evidence, not by emotions. Suspicions, accusations are not synonymous with guilt,? he added.
Gonzalez said that the Maguindanao provincial government-owned backhoe found in the crime scene was a ?circumstantial evidence? against the Ampatuans.
?But you can?t convict somebody with one circumstantial evidence,? said the former justice secretary. With reports from Norman Bordadora in Manila; and Jeffrey M. Tupas, Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao