DOJ defends refusal to yield Ampatuan kin in WPP fold
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has defended its decision not to turn over to police authorities a scion of Maguindanao’s Ampatuan family who is awaiting trial for the alleged murder of a municipal jail warden in 1998.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the government will ask the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court (RTC) to allow the DOJ-Witness Protection Program (WPP) to retain custody of Akmad Ampatuan as he is also a “key witness” against the 50 new suspects in the Maguindanao massacre.
De Lima said Akmad was not turned over to the policemen who tried to arrest him in Makati last month, saying he has been provisionally admitted to the WPP and his life remained in danger because he had already been ambushed twice.
“Our actions [to retain custody] are justified, because he’s a key witness to the second wave of complaints in the Maguindanao massacre. The cases are under preliminary investigation and he has applied for witness protection because his life is under threat; in fact, he had been ambushed twice. So we are duty-bound to secure him and there is nothing in the law which says that if you’re accused in other cases you can’t be covered by WPP,” De Lima said in an interview before the Holy Week break.
Start of trial
In a letter to De Lima last week, the family of jail warden Al-Khail Mamalangkay appealed to the secretary to turn over Akmad to the court so the trial could commence.
Mamalangkay was allegedly shot and killed by Akmad and two others when he was still the mayor of Datu Salibo town in Maguindanao. A murder case was filed in the Cotabato RTC which issued an arrest warrant against the suspects in September 1999.
De Lima clarified that the Makati police was able to serve the arrest warrant on Akmad but the WPP personnel guarding him did not yield custody. She said she asked government lawyers to make representations before the court to retain custody of the suspect.
“We cannot possibly simply terminate the WPP coverage and we cannot disallow the request or application for the WPP simply because he happens to be an accused in another case. That would be an abdication of our duty, of our mandate. We will insist on that (custody over Akmad); it is our duty to do so,” she said.
“We’re not saying that the court has no jurisdiction [over Akmad]—it has, because it is a criminal case. But [the court] should also acknowledge the authority and mandate of the WPP, because we are not going to risk [sending him to Cotabato], especially since he knows a lot and he has been ambushed. The security threat against him is really true and very serious,” De Lima said. Jerome Aning
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