De Lima seeks end to Maguindanao case bribery rift
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima is looking for solid proof to get to the bottom of bribery allegations that private prosecutors in the Maguindanao massacre case bared two months ago against their Department of Justice prosecutors (DOJ) counterparts.
De Lima on Friday said she was looking for ways to mend the ruffled relationship between private and state prosecutors pursuing the case, hoping to finally give justice to families of the 58 massacre victims.
“I’m trying to come up with ways and means to iron this out, without prejudice to the ongoing investigation [by the National Bureau of Investigation]. I will let that prosper, because what I’m after is to know the truth. But the trial should not be affected,” De Lima told reporters.
She admitted having “a hard time” being caught in the middle of two conflicting sides.
“I’m trying to balance. I trust the public prosecutors. I trust my people… So if there are undesirable allegations, like bribery, I really want proof. I want to be convinced. Because an allegation is no good without basis,” De Lima said.
“On the other hand, the private prosecutors have these allegations, and therefore they are saying they do not trust [the state prosecutors]. And this is the kind of case where the private prosecutors should be there,” she said.
The rift began when private prosecutors Nena Santos, counsel for Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, and Prima Jesusa Quinsayas bared differences with state prosecutors on the game plan for the case on July 31.
They were protesting the strategy of DOJ prosecutors and other private lawyers to rest the state’s case against primary accused Andal Ampatuan Jr. and 27 others. The DOJ explained that the “first in, first out plan” aimed to reach a partial promulgation of the case before the end of President Aquino’s term.
Court proceedings are expected to go on for years as a total of 196 accused will stand trial for the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre.
A few days later, Santos revealed that the Ampatuans, the principal suspects in the massacre, had offered her P300 million in bribes, hinting that government prosecutors may have accepted the amount after she declined.
Meanwhile, government witness Lakmodin Saliao accused DOJ Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, the official supervising the DOJ panel on the case, of accepting P20 million in bribes.
Another witness also surfaced in August and bared an alleged bribe list, containing names of those supposedly on the take.
De Lima said she was “considering” replacing Baraan as the panel’s supervising official, but admitted it would be difficult to replace the entire DOJ panel, as the composition had been changed three times.
“And considering the stage of the proceedings, which is already in the presentation of defense evidence, it would be hard. Back to square one. The new public prosecutors who would be assigned to handle the case would have to study the voluminous records,” De Lima said.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.