Posted by: JWP | 12/20/2009

Philippine Massacre case takes ironic twist

Analysis

Ampatuan case takes ironic twist

By Amando Doronila

Philippine Daily Inquirer

First Posted 02:12:00 12/21/2009

The Philippine judicial system is caught in the crunch of an avenging lynch mob and the backlash of the reign of terror of the warlord Ampatuan clan, accused in the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao. This tension has frayed the edges of the judicial system.

The brutality of the Nov. 23 slaughter has aroused so much anger that when Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the main suspect, appeared at the justice department for preliminary investigation, a group of journalists broke through his security cordon and attacked him.

They shouted invectives at Ampatuan, and shoved photographs of the mutilated bodies of massacre victims at his face. “Here are the people you killed,” the group said. They were demonstrating their anger over the slaughter of at least 30 journalists who covered the convoy of the supporters of Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu.

Mangudadatu’s wife and two sisters were among those killed while on their way to the provincial capital to file his certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao, running against Ampatuan.

Ampatuan faces multiple murder, as well as separate rebellion charges, together with his father, Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., and three brothers, including Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a region the clan has controlled since 2001 under the patronage and protection of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The attack on Ampatuan Jr. is unprecedented in criminal trials in Philippine judicial history. The violence took an ironic twist in that Ampatuan Jr. was saved from being lynched by state protection after the government took extraordinary measures to secure witnesses, prosecutors and judges against threats on their lives from minions of the Ampatuans.

So fearsome is the reputation of the Ampatuans that a judge to whom the murder cases were initially raffled off, Judge Luisito Cortez of Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 84, declined, invoking a heavy workload and a possible threat to the life of his staff and family.

Ampatuan Jr. was detained in Manila and the case was transferred to Metro Manila from Cotabato City, where judges, prosecutors and witnesses were deemed vulnerable to threats and pressure from the cohorts of the Ampatuan clan, whose members held nearly all the elected positions in their virtual feudal fiefdoms in Maguindanao and the ARMM.

Cortez was promptly replaced by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City RTC Branch 221. She was immediately given round-the-clock police protection.

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