De Lima mulls probe on bribe try in Maguindanao massacre case

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Monday, August 4, 2014

MANILA (Updated) -- Justice Secretary Leila de Lima may order the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe the allegation of lawyer Nena Santos that she was offered P300 million by the Ampatuan clan to jeopardize the Maguindanao massacre case.

Santos, counsel for 25 complainants including Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, said she declined the money and pointed at Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors handling the multiple murder cases as the ones who took the bribe instead.

"'Yun na muna ipapaimbestiga ko (bribe try on Santos). Now, kung meron din lumabas dyan na more or less ebidensya na pointing to alleged bribery naman to public prosecutors, paiimbestigahan ko rin yan," de Lima said Monday.

The justice chief, however, has already vouched for the integrity of the 12-man prosecution team headed by Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III as she called Santos' statements against her men "preposterous."

"Is that a fair statement na nag-offer allegedly yung Ampatuan clan kay Attorney Nena and allegedly dinecline, nireject ergo napunta yung pera sa public prosecutors? That is simply preposterous na ganyan ang conclusion agad. Napakalaki naman ng jump ng conclusion na 'yan in the absence of a clearer evidence," De Lima said.

De Lima also echoed Baraan's challenge to Santos to name names so that they can clean up the panel.

But the lawyer just turned the tables on Baraan.

"Lakmodin Saliao, a star witness in the Ampatuan massacre case, has come out in radio Bombo that Undersecretary Baraan was a recipient of the payoff. What do you think?" she said in a text message to Sun.Star, adding she will file a case against certain prosecutors before the Office of the Ombudsman "in due time."

In another interview, State Prosecutor Aristotle Reyes denied that he was kicked out of the prosecution team because of the bribery issue.

He said differences in legal strategy prompted him to quit.

"Hindi po ako nasuhulan, walang ganoong nangyari. Wala pong katotohanan yun. Nagresign ako para hindi umabot sa punto na magkatampuhan kami, kasi mahirap magprosecute pag umabot sa ganoon," said Reyes.

Santos started lashing at the prosecutors last week after the government decided to stick to its position of resting the case against 28 accused including the massacre's alleged mastermind Andal Ampatuan Jr.

The lawyer said the Quezon City Regional Trial Court branch 221 has already blocked the attempt thrice for being "unprocedural."

The DOJ, however, is taking advantage of the Supreme Court (SC) resolution that gives the prosecution the option to rest its case against some of the 194 accused without waiting for the presentation of evidence against all of the accused.

This strategy would reportedly help the Aquino government to score conviction before it exits from power in June 2016.

"And according to the public prosecutors we have more than sufficient evidence already to achieve conviction (against the 28 accused)," de Lima said.

For its part, Malacanang expressed confidence that justice will be served to the victims of Maguindanao massacre despite alleged rift between the public and private prosecutors.

In a regular press briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said that there is no need for Malacanang to intervene to settle the issue among some members of the prosecution team.

He said it would be up to Justice Secretary de Lima to handle the issue, including allegations that some public prosecutors received multi-million peso bribe from the Ampatuan family, whose some members were the main suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.

"What we are after is a successful prosecution. But these matters are details that need to be discussed between the public and the private prosecutors. And since they are all under Secretary Leila de Lima, perhaps Secretary Leila de Lima can discuss these matters with both sides," Lacierda said.

Asked if the Palace was still confident of getting justice for the victims of the tragic incident, he said, "Yes, we are confident. We have already presented the witnesses that have identified the participation of some of the accused."

Malacanang was apparently supporting the move of the government prosecutors to rest the case since it has already been a long process.

"It has already been fourth year and it is only now that we are resting the the estimation of the public prosecutors, there is more than enough evidence to sustain a conviction," Lacierda said.

Thirty-two out of 58 victims in the November 23, 2009 massacre were journalists on their way to a poll-related coverage, making it the world's biggest attack on press workers in a single day. (With SDR/Sunnex)

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