Maguindanao massacre lawyer rejects quit call

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Friday, August 8, 2014

LAWYER Nena Santos resisted Friday the call of fellow counsel Harry Roque to end her participation in the Maguindanao massacre trial, saying only the relatives of the 25 victims she is representing have the right to ask for it.

Santos is embroiled in a conflict with prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) over the government's decision to rest its case against 28 accused, including prime accused Andal Ampatuan Jr., whose family, according to her, bribed the panel with millions of pesos to keep him and his relatives off the hook.

Roque then called on Santos and another private prosecutor Prima Jesusa Quinsayas to quit from the multiple murder cases since their statements on lack of sufficient evidence to secure convictions tend to benefit the Ampatuans.

"Only my clients -- the families of 25 massacre victims -- can ask me to resign from the case. I serve them, not Attorney Roque, in these consolidated 58 murder cases," Santos said in a text message to Sun.Star.

The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was given 30 days by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to look into Santos' claim that P50 million changed hands to jeopardize the trial in favor of the Ampatuans and that the lawyer also rejected P300-million offer to do the same.

The public prosecutors strongly denied Santos' accusation as supervising Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, who allegedly got P20 million from the clan, challenged her to file cases before the Office of the Ombudsman.

"Do I talk like someone who's bribed? If I was bribed, then I would have exerted efforts to delay the case," he said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Also tagged in the bribery issue was lawyer Sigfried Fortun, whom state witness Lakmodin Saliao said was tasked by accused Andal Ampatuan Sr. to deliver the payoffs to the DOJ panel.

Fortun, along with fellow defense lawyers Andres Manuel and Paris Real, had already informed the Quezon City Regional Trial Court branch 221 of his decision to stay out of the cases.

Despite Fortun's resignation, de Lima said he will still be summoned by the NBI to give his side on the matter.

For its part, Malacanang urged Friday a Santos to prove her bribery allegations against an official of the DOJ and the public prosecutors by filing a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman.

"In any event, Attorney Nena Santos can file a case before the Office of the Ombudsman so that she can prove her alleged case with hard evidence," said Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte in a text message to reporters.

At the same time, Valte expressed hope that the resignation of three Ampatuan lawyers would not further delay the trial of the case.

"We certainly hope that this withdrawal of the accused's lawyers is not intended to delay the trial. In any case, the DOJ panel of prosecutors are on guard against dilatory tactics," she said.

After a certain period of time, under the Rules of Procedure, if a lawyer is not retained by the accused, he or she will have to be defended by a public attorney, Valte added.

The trial has been criticized for its slow pace, raising questions on the ability of the Aquino administration to deliver justice to the families of 58 victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre before the end of its term in June 2016.

But the Supreme Court (SC) offered a glimmer of hope when it allowed the "first in first out" policy, which 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 normally done in criminal cases.

The DOJ is now taking advantage of the resolution in a bid to put closure to the trial, which is already on its fourth year. (With SDR/Sunnex)

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