De Lima orders strict watch over Ampatuan assets
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has directed the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to keep a close eye on the numerous bank accounts and other assets of the Ampatuan clan after the family’s lawyers reportedly tried to withdraw money from one bank account in Cotabato City last Friday.
In a text message, De Lima on Sunday said she had also ordered Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz to inform the BDO branch in Cotabato that a Manila regional trial court had issued a provisional asset protection order (Papo) on the Ampatuans’ assets.
“Upon being informed of the Ampatuan camp’s attempt to withdraw [funds] from BDO Cotabato, I immediately sought (Interior) Secretary Jesse Robredo’s help to deploy (police) to secure the bank,” De Lima said.
“(I) also asked Solicitor General Cadiz to advise the bank about the Manila RTC-issued Papo,” she said.
The lower court’s order is similar to a freeze order and temporarily puts on hold any transactions involving the bank deposits and properties of former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and other members of his family who stand accused of masterminding the Maguindanao massacre that killed 58 people in 2009.
De Lima said she had also asked Robredo to check on the reported harassment of the bank’s manager and its personnel.
The justice secretary allayed fears the government prosecutors and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) had forgotten about the freeze order on the Ampatuans’ bank accounts and assets.
“The AMLC, through the OSG, was able to file a civil forfeiture case before the expiry date. So there’s no oversight,” De Lima said.
The six-month Court of Appeals freeze order on the assets lapsed last Friday.
In Congress, some lawmakers worried that allowing the Ampatuan clan to regain control of their assets would be a big blow to the government’s anticorruption drive.
Aurora Representative Juan Edgardo Angara said the Department of Justice, OSG and AMLC should make sure the Ampatuan’s 597 bank accounts, 142 firearms, 132 motor vehicles and 113 real estate properties remained out of their hands.
“Our government agencies must ensure that justice is delivered to the victims of the worst crime in the country’s electoral history. This should be clarified and the bodies concerned must immediately seek a similar order to freeze the assets,” said Angara.
“They should continue to be frozen. The government should file a motion for such and the Court of Appeals should extend it,” said Cavite Representative Joseph Emilio Aguinaldo Abaya.
Quezon Representative Lorenzo Tañada III warned that the campaign against corruption would suffer a setback if the state failed to get a new freeze order.
Marikina City Representative Miro Quimbo said that allowing the Ampatuans access to their assets would be an injustice not only to the massacre victims but to Filipinos who want to know how a clan could amass a fortune while their province mates wallowed in deep poverty.
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