‘No way deal with Zaldy Ampatuan can happen’
No way will Zaldy Ampatuan ever wangle a deal with this administration, President Benigno Aquino III’s adviser on political affairs said on Wednesday.
Ronald Llamas said Ampatuan, the detained former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), “has a false notion that he will get a quid pro quo under this administration, like what he used to get under [the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-] Arroyo.”
“That will never happen,” Llamas said, referring to the prospect of Ampatuan becoming a state witness or being pardoned by Mr. Aquino.
He said what pained him most was how Arroyo’s camp, specifically her lawyer, Raul Lambino, had managed to turn the tables against the administration.
“GMA (Arroyo) coddled the Ampatuans. Now [her camp is] making it appear as if this administration is coddling them. There are no backroom negotiations; there is no deal. We will never engage in a quid pro quo with Ampatuan,” Llamas said.
He said he would not agree to have the ex-governor charged with a lesser crime—in order to be eligible for parole—in the Maguindanao massacre case.
“I was the president of Akbayan and two of my members died in the Maguindanao massacre. We will never negotiate with the Ampatuans especially on this case,” he said.
Llamas said he was among the Cabinet officials assigned to “vet” the political aspect of the information offered by the former ARMM governor to the administration.
He said that based on their assessment, Ampatuan had said nothing new and merely corroborated the charges filed by his party-list group Akbayan and other organizations and individuals in the four impeachment cases filed against Arroyo.
Ampatuan was taken on Wednesday from Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City—where he and the other coaccused in the Maguindanao massacre case are being held—to Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City for a medical checkup.
Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 had ordered that he be examined on an out-patient basis, but doctors recommended that he stay overnight in preparation for certain medical procedures.
Ampatuan’s lawyer Howard Calleja said he had formally requested his client’s “hospital confinement based on the order of the doctor based on initial findings.”
Calleja said he expected a ruling on his request at around 7:30 on Wednesday night. But in an order issued Wednesday afternoon, Judge Reyes held the manifestation in abeyance and asked for Ampatuan’s medical abstract.
Llamas said it was Ampatuan, through his lawyer and relatives, who had sent word to Mr. Aquino of his willingness to testify on the purported election fraud and corruption involving Arroyo, now a representative of Pampanga.
“The President agreed to explore the information and review the legal and political impact of what Ampatuan has to say without making any commitment,” Llamas said.
He said Mr. Aquino was “firm in the belief” that Ampatuan was a principal player in the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre and was involved in the purported election fraud in Mindanao and the plunder of billions of pesos in government funds poured into the ARMM during Arroyo’s presidency.
“We believe that he was a ‘kasabwat’ (conspirator) of Arroyo,” Llamas said.
Ampatuan’s lawyers, as well as Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo and Mr. Aquino’s spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, have said that the former governor only wanted to be covered by the justice department’s witness protection program.
In Llamas’ reckoning, while Ampatuan has not formally asked to become a state witness, he came forward because he wanted to escape further persecution or clear his conscience.
“He thought he could stir the beans and become a state witness in exchange for his testimony, but that can never happen,” Llamas said. “Right now, the only thing he can do is clear his conscience and probably change his name.”
Llamas said Ampatuan’s offer to testify against his father and brother in the Maguindanao massacre case would not absolve him in the minds of the victims’ kin.
Neither will Ampatuan be eligible to become a state witness in the case involving the election fraud that he claimed to have been perpetrated by Arroyo in 2004 and 2007, Llamas said, adding that former Maguindanao Election Supervisor Lintang Bedol and former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano were “most likely in cahoots with Zaldy.”
“They are linked to each other. They (Bedol and Garcillano) will not act without the support of warlords like the Ampatuans,” Llamas said.
As for the state funds that, as Ampatuan had claimed, Arroyo siphoned from the ARMM allocations, Llamas said this could not have been done without the then governor’s connivance.
“He has to tell us where the ARMM funds were spent because 70 percent of the P11 billion poured in the region [during his watch] is missing,” Llamas said.
Llamas denied that Ampatuan’s moves were the result of a plot by the “Balay” faction in the administration. He pointed out that except for Robredo, no Cabinet official had been in contact with Ampatuan.
‘Beyond executive branch’
At Wednesday’s news briefing in Malacañang, Lacierda said it was “inconceivable for [Llamas] to even lobby for Zaldy Ampatuan.”
He also said the executive branch had no hand in Judge Reyes’ decision to allow Ampatuan to leave prison for a medical checkup.
“It’s beyond the executive branch,” Lacierda said. “The fact that he was able to go to the hospital would imply that he was able to secure an approval from the court to do so.”
Lacierda refused to comment on the idea that other prisoners were more deserving of a medical checkup.
“It would be unfair for me to render judgment or to show any sentiment on the matter because the judge is in a better position to do so,” he said.
Lacierda said the only way the executive department would be involved in the matter was through the prosecutors of the justice department.
Judge Reyes issued an order dated July 19 saying Ampatuan’s request for hospitalization was “partially granted.”
Ampatuan asked to be allowed to undergo a medical examination at Philippine Heart Center by “a physician of his choice” after he was denied such a procedure by St. Luke’s Medical Center in Taguig for security reasons.
The former governor arrived at the hospital at noon Wednesday in an ambulance escorted by uniformed personnel from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
Doctors had found Ampatuan to be afflicted with coronary heart disease and diabetes and recommended that he be subjected to the following procedures: 12-lead ECG, two-dimensional echocardiography, 24-hour Holter monitoring, carotid duplex scan, peripheral arterial and venous duplex scan, endothelial function test, and complete blood chemistry including high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and myocardial perfusion imaging. With reports from Nancy C. Carvajal and Norman Bordadora