Only 8 of 50 new suspects in Maguindanao massacre file counter-affidavits
MANILA, Philippines—Only eight out of the 50 new suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre filed and swore to their counter-affidavits on Thursday during the preliminary investigation of the case at the Department of Justice in Manila.
Mamasapano mayor Benzar Ampatuan was among those who filed his counter-affidavit before the panel chaired by state prosecutor Jocelyn Dugay.
The panel gave one sick respondent, Faisal Ampatuan, and others — Rajah Buayan town mayor Jakub Ampatuan Lumenda and Pandag Ampatuan who received copies of the complaint late or were unable to afford a plane ticket to Manila—until April 23 to file their counter-affidavits, subject to motions to be filed by their counsels.
“We did not object to those reasonable requests [for more time to file] in the interest of justice. But they have to comply with the rule that they should swear on their affidavits before this panel and not elsewhere,” the complainants’ lead counsel Nena Santos later told reporters.
Santos strongly objected to the attempt by the lawyer of Datu Unsay mayor Reshal Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak Mayor Zahara Ampatuan, Kuka Ebos, Rowel Santiago and Salahudin Dulay to have the panel accept the respondents’ counter-affidavits that they earlier swore to before a public prosecutor in Cotabato City.
Santos wondered why the two mayors were able to show up before prosecutors without being arrested despite having been charged and ordered arrested by different courts for separate murder charges.
“If they were able to subscribe to their affidavits before the Cotabato prosecutor despite their warrants of arrest, why can’t they come here?” Santos asked.
After a debate, the state prosecutors decided to mark the affidavits “received” but not “filed” pending their decision on the issue.
The lawyer of another respondent, Cotabato City administrator Cynthia Guiani Sayani, asked for more time to submit a revised counter-affidavit.
About a dozen complainants, mostly members of the families of journalists who died in the massacre, attended the hearing. However, the panel, citing a previous agreement by the parties, ordered the complainants out except their counsels.
Santos tried but failed to convince the panel to reconsider its decision. The complainants loudly protested as they were led out of the room. Dugay said the sending out of the complainants was not a special treatment for the respondents.
The respondents had been contending, as part of their defense, that the complainants did not even know them.
The panel, on the request of the respondents, prohibited media men from taking pictures of the respondents. The panel, on Santos’ motion, also ejected about half a dozen security escorts of the Ampatuans from the hearing room.
The complainants filed the cases against the new suspects based on the testimony given by the witnesses in the ongoing hearings for the earlier batch of suspects, including former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons, Andal Jr. and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.
On November 23, 2009, 58 people, including 34 journalists, were abducted and summarily executed while they were accompanying the wife of Esmael Mangudadatu, now the incumbent Maguindanao governor, in filing his certificate of candidacy for the 2010 gubernatorial race.
The massacre was blamed on the Ampatuan clan, which has dominated the province’s politics for decades.
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