Witness tags Ampatuan Sr.
“Yes na yes na yes.”
Pointing an accusing finger, a key state witness on Wednesday positively identified in court former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. as the person who ordered the 2009 massacre of 57 people, including 32 media workers, in what was regarded as the worst political killing in the country.
In heated proceedings live-streamed for the first time on the Internet, Lakmodin Saliao also tagged Andal Sr.’s son Sajid and—to the surprise of many inside the courtroom—lawyer Art Lauren Tan, Sajid’s counsel, as among those present when the Ampatuans allegedly planned the murders.
The prosecution also claimed that the Maguindanao warlord offered a P5-million bribe to Saliao in February for him to recant his testimony.
‘He was the one’
“Yes, he was the one who ordered that all the people … the Mangudadatus (the Ampatuans’ rival clan) be killed,” Saliao said, referring to the man whom the witness said he once served as a close-in aide.
He repeatedly answered yes when asked if it was the same Andal Sr. who led the planning of the Nov. 23, 2009 carnage.
Many in the courtroom audience stood up to watch as Saliao briefly left the stand and walked toward his former boss. Saliao took his time, stopped about two meters from where Andal Sr. sat, then pointed a finger at him.
Then, without being asked, he said: “Sajid was also present at the meeting.” He was referring to the Ampatuan scion who was then seated next to his father.
Sajid, who has not been arraigned, attended Wednesday’s hearing to seek bail.
Saliao’s statement set off a barrage of objections from defense lawyers led by Sigfrid Fortun, who argued that the witness was only instructed to identify the accused and not to say anything while doing so.
“Why is the prosecutor shouting at me?” Fortun said at one point in the heated exchange.
Fortun earlier tried to prevent Saliao from making the positive identification by stipulating that Saliao had already cited the same person in a testimony he gave in September last year.
It was the same maneuver Fortun made last year when Saliao was about to identify another Ampatuan son and co-accused, Andal Jr. The prosecutors then agreed to this stipulation.
Saliao also identified Sajid’s lawyer Tan, who was seated beside his client, as among those present in the meeting.
“Si Attorney. He’s the brother of Sajid’s wife. He was also there,” Saliao said, drawing a wave of murmurs from the gallery and another round of objections from the defense panel.
“(Tan) is not even included among the accused and yet look at what the witness did,” Fortun said. “This just shows the quality of the witness … what he is capable of doing.”
But private prosecutor Harry Roque countered that Saliao’s statement should remain on record because the victims’ relatives would demand Tan’s inclusion in the charge sheet.
Officer of the court
“He’s an officer of the court and yet he was present at the planning of these murders… It’s a good thing that no less than the [Supreme Court] Court Administrator is present [to hear this],” Roque said.
He was referring to Supreme Court spokesperson Midas Marquez, who was in court to oversee the test run of the trial’s live-stream broadcast on the high court’s website.
Facing reporters after the hearing, Saliao said: “I am happy that I was finally able to point to the person who is a criminal.”
“We were just looking at each other as if we were playing a game,” he added.
Saliao was also supposed to testify that, on Feb. 28 this year, Andal Sr. offered him P5 million in exchange for his retraction.
But Judge Reyes held off the narration of the alleged bribery attempt. This was in view of a pending defense motion appealing the court’s June 8 ruling which allowed testimonies pertaining to events after the massacre as a way to prove the element of conspiracy among the accused.
Still, Lazaro pointed out to the court that Saliao even had a pawnshop receipt for the P10,000 “allowance” he got from the Ampatuans.
Also on Wednesday, two widows of the journalists killed in the massacre asked the Supreme Court to lift restrictions on the live media coverage of the trial, particularly the ban on commercials and running commentary.
Editha Tiamzon and Glenna Legarta also urged the court to reconsider its ban on replays.
“With due respect, [the] guidelines [set] by the court are content-based restrictions constituting prior restraint,” the widows said in a 25-page petition.
At the Manila Regional Trial Court, Branch 26 Judge Silvino Pampilo dismissed Andal Jr.’s petition seeking the indictment of Kenny Dalandag, an alleged massacre gunman who had turned state witness.
Pampilo maintained that determining who should be charged in court was “an executive function,” noting that the Department of Justice had already admitted Dalandag into its Witness Protection Program.
“The court has no power or prerogative to intervene with the functions of the executive department to decide whom to prosecute,” the judge said. With reports from Marlon Ramos and Jaymee T. Gamil
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