Zaldy as state witness ‘revolting’ to victims’ kin
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Thursday added its voice to concerns over Malacañang’s statements regarding Zaldy Ampatuan’s offer to turn state’s evidence and testify against his family on trial for masterminding the Maguindanao massacre.
“These are signals that do not augur well in the search for justice,” Rowena Paraan, the NUJP secretary general, said in a statement.
“It is revolting to see the top leadership of the land cozying up to a key suspect in the worst incident of electoral violence in the country and the deadliest single attack on the press in history,” she said.
Thirty-two journalists were among 58 people mowed down with gunfire or hacked to death with machetes in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.
The suspended ARMM governor, his father, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and brother Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr. are among 196 people accused in the massacre. The three are in jail, along with 76 others arrested in connection with the case.
Zaldy’s “exposés” against the Arroyo administration may come at a price—an acquittal for multiple murder in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and conviction on a lesser offense, a private prosecutor said Thursday.
Harry Roque, counsel for some families of the journalists killed in Maguindanao, said that the moves of the former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to implicate his own family should not have been considered by Malacañang.
“It should only be the Department of Justice that should exercise its jurisdiction because it is tasked both with the prosecution of the criminal case and in opposing (Zaldy’s) Court of Appeals petition,” Roque said in a news conference.
Also on Thursday, the Inquirer learned that two Court of Appeals justices—Danton Bueser and Marlene Gonzales-Sison—had inhibited themselves from hearing Zaldy’s petition questioning his indictment for multiple murder. The reasons were not disclosed.
Associate Justice Josefina Guevara-Salonga was named to replace Bueser, but she likewise declined. Associate Justice Rome Barza had taken over from Sison.
In TV interviews conducted two weeks ago and broadcast on Monday, Zaldy offered to turn state witness against his father and brother—a proposal that an unnamed emissary discussed with President Aquino, who later confirmed the meeting.
Roque said Zaldy’s plea should not have been entertained. He noted Zaldy’s disclosures the past several days, accusing former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of election rigging and corruption.
“At issue here is whether one of the masterminds in this massacre should be allowed to go scot free in exchange for information that would pin down (Arroyo) but have nothing to do with the massacre itself,” Roque said.
Roque feared that these “by-the-day” revelations would result in the former ARMM governor’s acquittal, or being allowed to plead guilty to a lesser offense.
“It’s like they (Zaldy’s camp) are saying, ‘We have a lot to come out with as long as Zaldy is exonerated,’” Roque said.
Roque earlier slammed presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo for discussing Zaldy’s offer to turn state’s evidence.
But Lacierda dismissed his criticism, saying that the lawyer was just a “KSP”—seeking public attention.
“Our worse fear is that the (Court of Appeals) justices may read Lacierda’s and Robredo’s actuation to mean that the Palace considers Zaldy as an asset,” Roque said.
Roque challenged Lacierda to disclose his reported meeting with Zaldy’s lawyer, Howard Calleja, if true. As an accused on trial, Zaldy “should not have access to the President,” Roque said.
Calleja yon Thursday said he had “never talked with, much less negotiated with Malacañang or Lacierda” on behalf of Zaldy.—With reports from Nikko Dizon and Philip C. Tubeza, and Ryan Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao
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