MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Zaldy Ampatuan pleaded not guilty Wednesday, December 12, at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, before a court trying him for his alleged involvement in the gruesome Maguindanao massacre 3 years ago.
The former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao initially refused to enter a plea, saying he wanted his lawyer to do it for him. But Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 rejected this, prompting Ampatuan to eventually say “not guilty.”
He was fidgeting and chatting with his guards all throughout the proceedings. The arraignment, which began at 9:30 am, was over in 20 minutes.
The court at the camp in Taguig opened at around 9:15 am. It was packed with relatives of the victims, soldiers and policemen. The court is an extension of the Quezon City RTC; the Ampatuans are detained there.
Families of the victims of the massacre started gathering at the camp early morning to witness the long-postponed arraignment. Maguindanao Gov Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife and other relatives were killed in the massacre, was also present.
The Supreme Court on November 14 dismissed with finality Ampatuan’s appeal for him to be removed from the list 196 accused.
The Ampatuan trial is on its third year. Out of the 196 accused in the massacre, 103 have been arrested and 82 arraigned, including Zaldy Ampatuan.
Zaldy Ampatuan has been in jail for 3 years now. He was arrested on Dec. 3, 2009, during the martial law declared in the province of Maguindanao. Aside from Zaldy Ampatuan, two other Ampatuans were charged with murder for the massacre: his father Andal Ampatuan Sr. and brother Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Andal Jr was arraigned on Jan 5, 2010, the first to be arraigned of the suspects.
The prosecution has so far presented 101 witnesses against the Ampatuans. The hearings began in January 2010.
A Quezon City trial court handling the case has already held 264 hearing dates, according to the Supreme Court. – Rappler.com