Justice secretary, lawyers want jail guards assigned to Ampatuans changed
MANILA, Philippines—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and prosecutors in the Maguindanao massacre case have asked the Department of Interior and Local Governments to relieve the warden of the Quezon City Jail Annex in Bicutan, Taguig, for alleged bias in favor of the Ampatuans.
Private prosecutor Nena Santos said they wrote Interior Secretary Jessie Robredo on Sept. 8 and asked that he sack Jail Senior Insp. Bernardino Edgar Camus and his deputy, J/Insp. JC Juta, for allegedly extending favors to the Ampatuans inside the high-security prison in Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan.
Camus was appointed to his post in late May after the previous warden was also accused of extending VIP treatment to the Ampatuans.
“Camus is biased against the complainants and (Camus and Juta) have been in their posts for more than three months,” Santos said in an interview.
The private prosecutors earlier asked the Department of Interior and Local Government to allow prison officials to serve only up to three months at the Bicutan jail so that they would not grow too familiar with the Ampatuans.
But under Camus’ term, there was an instance when principal accused and former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. arrived at a hearing with no handcuffs, Santos said.
In another instance, the Ampatuans were not brought down from their jail cells until after their lawyer Sigfrid Fortun allowed it, she added.
Santos also said that Camus endangered the life of a government witness when the witness and his guards were made to stay outside the prison compound while prosecutors were made to walk from the compound gate to the makeshift courtroom.
Camus vehemently denied that he was extending any favor to the Ampatuans, who were accused of being behind the November 2009 massacre that left 57 persons dead, many of them journalists.
“I’ve been in the service for so long. There’s no amount that can buy our principles,” said Camus.
“I’m just doing my job while trying to be fair to both sides,” he added.
Camus said the one instance when Andal Sr. was brought to the courtroom without his handcuffs was an oversight by one of his men and never happened again.
Camus said they usually conferred with Fortun before Andal Sr. was brought down because the Ampatuan patriarch had already waived his right to attend his trial.
“A court order is required before he can be brought down and so we also have to check with him,” he added.
When asked to explain the incident involving a witness and his guards, Camus said they had to stay outside the prison compound because the guards were armed.
“What if the witness took a gun and shot the Ampatuans? Even if he were only able to discharge his gun, that would still be a black eye for the bureau,” Camus said.
He pointed that an air-conditioned holding room for witnesses had been set up after that incident and prosecutors have been allowed to disembark from their vehicles near the courtroom.
“If we’re being strict about security, it’s meant to protect everyone,” Camus said.
Camus said they also took out a P30,000 loan from the BJMP cooperative to set up the biometric screening system to screen those coming in and out of prison to prevent inmates from escaping.
“We’ve also upgraded our eight CCTV cameras and improved jail facilities like the toilets so that, even if we’re removed, we can say that we were able to make improvement,” Camus said.
At the hearing on Thursday, farmer Lerma Palabrica, a fruit vendor, testified about the death of her daughter, Mercy Palabrica, a government clerk who was among those killed in the massacre after the vehicle she was riding in was flagged down by the gunmen.
Mercy was the only breadwinner in her family. She had nine other siblings, Santos said.
The defense lawyers and prosecutors clashed when defense lawyers raised questions about Lerma’s crying while testifying in court.
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