MANILA, Philippines ? (UPDATE) The two governors in the Ampatuan family and three other members of their clan beat the deadline, on Monday, to answer the allegations of multiple murder against them in connection with the Maguindanao massacre.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, Maguindanao Gov. Sajid Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak Mayor Anwar Ampatuan and Akmad Amptuan submitted their respective counter-affidavits to the panel in Monday?s hearing.
The panel of prosecutors conducting preliminary investigation on the massacre case closed on Monday the proceedings and is expected to resolve whether to charge the respondents in court for the killings on or before Feb. 2.
?We?re well within the 60-day period so we are confident (we will beat the deadline to come up with a resolution),? Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño said in a news conference after the second and last preliminary investigation on the case.
The prosecutors closed the case and deemed it up for resolution in the absence of an angry throng of journalists that met the lone accused in the case, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., when he attended the first hearing on Dec. 18.
Andal, Jr., would face his first day in court on Jan. 5, Acting Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said.
?That would be a hearing for bail,? Devanadera told reporters.
The multiple murder case?some 56 counts filed in court against Andal, Jr.?is now pending before the Quezon City regional trial court and will be heard in a venue inside Camp Crame.
The rules of procedure governing preliminary investigation hearings provide that prosecutors resolve whether to file a case in court against the respondents within 60 days after the complaints were filed against them.
With the panel?s decision to close the proceedings, the prosecutors would now evaluate the evidence based on the complaints and the counter-affidavits whether there is probable cause to charge the respondents, including the Ampatuans, for multiple murder.
Lawyer Roberto Villanueva, the legal counsel for the four Ampatuans, told the panel that they were submitting the counter-affidavits that were earlier sworn to before a public prosecutor.
Villanueva initially balked at submitting the counter-affidavits and asked the panel of prosecutors led by Senior State Prosecutor Rosanne Balauag to give his clients more time to submit the statements after all the complainants? affidavits have been completed.
He, however, decided to submit the Ampatuans? counter-affidavits after one of the complainants? lawyers, Nena Santos, told the panel that they were already in possession of 55 death certificates of the victims in the massacre.
Santos, the lawyer of the Mangudadatu family that lost several of its members in the massacre, submitted the death certificates to the panel on Monday.
Another respondent Ampatuan, Saudi, had his lawyer submit his counter-affidavit without any contest.
Clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan, Sr., and Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., stood pat on their decision to waive their right to answer the multiple murder allegations against them through counter-affidavits.
Lawyer Sigfrid Fortun indicated to the panel in the first hearing that his clients were waiving their right to answer the allegations against them and accused the Department of Justice of prejudging the case against the Ampatuans.
Fortun said his clients were invoking their constitutional right to a speedy disposition of their criminal case and submitted their case for immediate resolution by the panel.
All the Ampatuans, including Andal, Jr., who is detained at the nearby National Bureau of Investigation jail, opted not to appear at the hearing held at the DOJ compound in Manila.
According to Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Fadullon, there are 200 respondents in the multiple murder case. He said 60 to 70 of them submitted themselves to the preliminary investigation proceedings.
Aside from the Ampatuans, the other respondents that submitted themselves to preliminary investigation are police officers from the Maguindanao police and the 1507th Provincial Mobile Group of the PNP.
Investigation conducted by the police and the NBI identified police officers from the two units as some of those who were present during the massacre.