|Atty. Harry Roque Photo: http://humanrightshouse.org|
By Marlon Ramos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:31:00 03/24/2011
Filed Under: Maguindanao Massacre, Crime and Law and Justice, Legal issues, Ampatuan Trial
MANILA, Philippines—The sudden resignation of the state prosecutors handling the multiple murder case against the Ampatuan clan has caused anxiety among families of some of the journalists killed in the Maguindanao massacre, their lawyer said Wednesday.
Harry Roque said his clients were at a loss over the sudden change in the composition of the Department of Justice (DoJ) panel assigned to lead the prosecution of what many referred to as “the trial of the century.”
“The families don’t understand why this should happen. They don’t know whom to trust now,” Roque told the Inquirer over the phone.
Roque, who represents the families of 13 journalist victims, questioned the supposed arbitrariness of Nena Santos, lawyer of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, in influencing the DoJ’s handling of the case.
Mangudadatu’s wife and four other relatives were among the 57 persons killed in the Nov. 23, 2010, massacre, the country’s worst political violence.
Roque said he was “disturbed” by the decision of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to replace members of the panel of prosecutors, then led by Assistant Chief State Prosecutor Richard Anthony Fadullon.
But before De Lima could issue her recommendation, Fadullon and other prosecutors had already submitted their resignation.
Roque said he was not surprised by the decision of another panel member, Assistant State Prosecutor Alexander Suarez, to also leave the prosecution team.
Suarez tendered his irrevocable resignation from the panel on Friday, citing the rift between the state prosecutors and Santos.
Santos, De Lima’s classmate at the San Beda College of Law, reportedly asked the justice secretary to replace the prosecution panel due to various differences.
Roque disclosed that De Lima did not consult him when she decided to replace the six senior members of the prosecution panel.
He said the alleged involvement of Mangudadatu’s brother, Buluan Mayor Ibrahim Mangudadatu, in the ambush of a prosecutor in Maguindanao and Santos’ perceived influence over the new prosecution panel “are very disturbing.”
“The prosecutors’ panel should be independent from politicians. We believe that the Maguindanao massacre (was an affront to) the freedom of the press and was not a simple political killing,” he said.
Roque also lamented Santos’ supposed treatment of the families of the slain journalists, claiming she was treating them as “second class victims.”
“We will not let that happen,” he said.
Sought for comment, De Lima said the DoJ prosecutors were “in perfect chemistry” with the private lawyers.
She said the resignation of the prosecutors were just “momentary concerns” and should not affect the prosecution of the Ampatuans.
“These are momentary concerns affecting the case so please, don’t make an issue out of it,” De Lima told reporters.