MANILA (Mabuhay) — The Department of Justice (DOJ) defended its move to place former Datu Salibo, Maguindanao Mayor Akmad Ampatuan under its custody by virtue of his Witness Protection Program (WPP) coverage.
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said Akmad is a “key witness” in the second wave of complaints now pending with the DOJ in connection with the November 23, 2009 Maguindanao massacre case, and has to be secured due to threats to his life.
Akmad was recently arrested in Makati City by virtue of an arrest warrant for murder and arson issued by the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court. The WPP took him into custody and refused to hand him over to the arresting officers.
De Lima said proper representations were made with the arresting officers, as well as the trial court, informing them of his WPP status.
“Justified ang action namin diyan because he’s a key witness to the second wave of complaints sa Maguindanao massacre. Alam ninyo naman na while yung unang batch ng mga akusado sa Maguindanao massacre, around 197 of them, they do not represent the entirety of those na talagang nag-participate. And remember na karamihan dun sa kinasuhan dun sa first wave ay yung mga CVOs (civilian volunteer organizations), meaning, the minor players, yung mga nautusan lang, mga nandun lang, pero merong mga ilan-ilan na mga medyo we can consider also as malaki-laki ang role dun sa massacre na hindi pa nakasuhan,” De Lima said.
De Lima stressed that Akmad’s testimony is vital to the case, especially that he is a relative of several of the primary accused, namely former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Jr., and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. The justice chief said Akmad has identified other several “powerful personalities” as co-conspirators in the commission of the crime.
“He’s part of the circle, he’s an insider, so he knows a lot about the Ampatuans and he knows a lot about what happened during that massacre. Key witness namin siya,” De Lima said.
De Lima said Akmad’s life is in danger because of his testimony, and pointed out that he had already been ambushed before. Another key witness in the massacre case also survived an ambush attempt, she added.
“Ang dalawang key witnesses na yan na-ambush na sila pareho on separate incidents so we are duty-bound to secure him (Akmad), we are duty-bound to put him (Akmad) under WPP,” De Lima said.
The DOJ is awaiting the Cotabato court’s action on the former’s motion to retain custody of Akmad, and remains hopeful that the court will grant the plea. De Lima pointed out that under the WPP Law, there is no coverage prohibition on individuals facing other charges in court.
The justice chief made the pronouncement amid a plea made by the family of slain jail warden Al-Khail Mamalangkay for the DOJ to release Akmad from the WPP. Mamalangkay was allegedly shot to death by Akmad in 1998.(MNS)