Mon, Apr 19, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Families to appeal dropped charges in massacre probe

AFP , MANILA

Families of those slain in the Philippines’ worst political massacre vowed yesterday to appeal a government decision to drop charges against two members of a Muslim clan blamed for the killings.

“We are going to oppose this order in court. We will file an appeal,” private prosecutor Harry Roque, who represents some of the families, said.

“They are angry, feel they were absolutely betrayed by the government and believe there is a political compromise,” he charged.

Justice Secretary Alberto Agra on Saturday ordered murder charges be dropped against cousins Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan for the November massacre in strife-torn Maguindanao province.

He said both men presented alibis that showed they were not present at the time of the massacre in which 57 people, including many journalists, were executed at point blank range by gunmen loyal to the Ampatuans.

Government prosecutors had initially charged that both men and other members of the Ampatuan clan conspired to carry out the murders.

The murders were allegedly intended to prevent a rival from running against clan member Andal Ampatuan Jr for the post of provincial governor in the May 10 national elections.

“The decision dropping murder charges against them was so sly and done on a weekend when no one was looking,” Roque said. “It is so brazen, and shows that justice will not be reached in this administration.”

Roque said his clients would also ask the court handling the case to disqualify the present panel of state prosecutors and appoint new ones.

The Ampatuan clan had enjoyed close political ties with Philippine President Gloria Arroyo until she was forced to disown them amid international outrage in the aftermath of the bloodbath.

Arroyo’s government had in the past used the clan’s huge private army to help the government in its anti-insurgency drive, and to ensure that her candidates won in the south during previous elections, security analysts said.

In exchange, the government allegedly turned a blind eye to corruption and abuses in the local government while the clan was building up its vast wealth.

In his 16-page resolution dropping the charges, Agra said public outrage should not be a reason “for a sweeping and senseless indictment.”

“To be sure, if life is taken, justice demands that the wrong be redressed,” he said.

“But this same justice that calls for retribution cannot be the same one that would convict the accused whose guilt cannot be proven beyond reasonable doubt,” he said.

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