MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering the option to change the roster of public prosecutors handling the Ampatuan massacre cases following payoff allegations against them.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima told reporters on Friday, October 24, that they are just waiting for the results of the National Bureau of Investigations’ (NBI) probe into the bribery allegations against DOJ Undersecretary Francisco “Toti” Baraan and the panel of public prosecutors.
De Lima admitted she is having a difficult time making the decision.
Baraan and the DOJ panel were accused of receiving bribes from the accused Ampatuans to weaken the case. Private prosecutor Nena Santos first revealed that a supposed P300-million bribe offer was made to her. Prosecution witness Lakmodin Saliao also claimed the Ampatuans bribed Baraan and the panel for P50 million. (READ: Gov’t lawyers: Timeline belies Ampatuan payoff claim).
Baraan also allegedly held at least two private meetings with Sigfrid Fortun, lead counsel of the Ampatuan clan. Baraan admitted that he met with Fortun in his office, but insisted there was nothing irregular about the meeting. (READ: Gov’t lawyers to rest Ampatuan Massacre case despite protest)
“I’m considering that [request of Mangudadatu to replace Usec. Baraan]. My main consideration is what is best for the case in general,” De Lima said.
De Lima added she wants to be convinced first that there is a valid reason for replacing Baraan.
“I really want proof. I want to be convinced [that he should be replaced]. It isn’t fair that you are alleging someone without any basis. It is unfair to the person being accused of something that is not even true,” she added.
De Lima admitted she is having a hard time deciding, and that she’s “trying to balance everything.”
“It is difficult to replace someone in the panel. If Usec. Baraan was booted out of the panel at this very moment, the people might think he’s already guilty of the allegations against him. He has a point in that aspect,” she said.
She also pointed out that changing the composition of the DOJ panel at this point in the trial would be impractical.
“We already changed the panel three or four times, and I was told there are no more takers. Besides, it would be difficult for a new panel to go back to square one when the trial is already in the defense presentation,” she explained.
The plan to change the roster of public prosecutors came more than a year after DOJ received marching orders from President Benigno Aquino III to have the suspects in the massacre convicted before his term ends in 2016. (READ: DOJ: Ampatuan massacre convictions by 2016)
The massacre which killed 58 people on November 23, 2009 – 32 of them members of the media – was the worst mass killing to be recorded in recent Philippine history.
The Ampatuan have been the ruling clan in Maguindanao for decades, expanding their influence by allegedly rigging elections in favor of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Critics lament the slow pace of the trial. – Rappler.com