THE High Court granted Tuesday the Justice department’s petition to transfer to a regional trial court in Quezon City the rebellion case filed against former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and three of his sons.

Following an en banc session, the Supreme Court (SC) found merit to the request of Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera to cause the transfer of the case for security reasons and to ensure the proper dispensation of justice.

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Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said the rebellion cases, initially filed before Branch 15 of the Cotabato Regional Trial Cotabato (RTC), need to be raffled to another branch of the Quezon City RTC for hearing upon its receipt of the records of the case.

Devanadera requested the transfer of the cases against the Ampatuans due to their perceived influence over Maguindanao.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) last December 9 filed rebellion raps against Ampatuan and 22 others before the Cotabato RTC in connection with their alleged acts of rising up in arms against government troops last November 28 in the wake of the arrest of his son, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

Ampatuan Jr. was arrested November 27 as principal suspect in the November 23 massacre of 57 individuals at a hillside in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, Maguindanao, consisting of the rival Mangudadatu clan, their supporters and accompanying media men, who went to cover his wife’s filing of certificate of candidacy in his behalf before the local Comelec.

Separate murder charges were filed against Ampatuan Jr., which is now being heard before the sala of Quezon City RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

On the other hand, Ampatuan Sr., his other sons and some 200 supporters, are still awaiting the resolution to the preliminary investigation for multiple murder conducted by the DOJ.

Aside from Ampatuan Sr., also charged for rebellion were his sons, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Governor Zaldy; acting Maguindanao Governor Sajid Islam; Shariff Aguak Mayor Anwar; Vice Governor Al-Hadji Akmad; civilians Kusain Akmad Sakilan; Jovel Vista Lopez; Rommy Gimba Mamay; Sammy Duyo Villanueva; Ibrahim Tukya Abdulkadir; Samil Manalao Mindo; Goldo Ampatuan; Amaikugao Obab Dolgon; Billy Cabaya Gabriel Jr.; Abdullah Kaliangat Ampatuan; Moneb Smair Ibrahim; Umpa Ugka Yarya; Manding Abdulkadir; Dekay Idra Ulama; Kapid Gabriel Cabaya; Koka Batong Managilid; Sammy Ganda Macabuat; Duco Lendungan Ambon; and Akmad Abdullah Ulilisen.

In the Information for rebellion, state prosecutors said the Ampatuans and other respondents conspired with one another to rise publicly and take arms against the Republic, “for the purpose of removing allegiance to the government and its laws, the territory of the Republic of the Philippines.”

According to DOJ prosecutors, the province-wide threat to public security were due to the orders of Ampatuan Sr. and Zaldy, in reaction to the arrest of Andal Jr., noting the massive formations of numerous armed civilians, supported by armored vehicles and under the command of the Ampatuans who have formed a private army to resist government troops.

“Ampatuan Sr. directed his private armies to combat the government to death. Zaldy Ampatuan directed his people to organize a rally to trigger the government and that his constituents are ready to support them and fight for them,” the resolution stated.

State prosecutors further said that there were no prosecutors available to conduct the inquest and preliminary investigations relative to the murder, while local government officials are also nowhere to be found.

Most of their employees went on mass leave and their respective offices were either closed or not functioning, so that the local Civil Registrar refused to issue the Death Certificate of the victims of the massacre.

They also pointed out that the substitute judge of the Cotabato RTC Branch 15, which has jurisdiction over the site of the massacre is related by affinity to the Ampatuan family.

The judge likewise refused to accept the application for search warrants for violation of PD 1866 (illegal possession of firearms) to authorize the search of properties of the Ampatuan families. There was undue delay in the issuance of court processes despite the exigency of the situation.

Through their political power and tremendous wealth, the Ampatuans managed to own palatial mansions, flashy cars, high-powered firearms, had wealthy friends and maintain a private army of some 2,000 armed men employed under the provincial government of Maguindanao as CVOs and special Cafgu Active Auxiliary (SCAA), which made them even more powerful.

“Said private armies were ready to harm, impair and attack the Philippine government and the people of Maguindanao if Gov. Ampatuan Sr., Zaldy Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan, Sajid Ampatuan and other supporters will be arrested. The CVOs/Cafgus showed that they are still constantly loyal to the Ampatuan clan, thus, they believed that there will be a bloody/violent war that may happen,” prosecutors said.

Earlier, at the preliminary investigation for rebellion against the 600 other respondents, the panel granted the request of defense lawyers for additional 10 days within which to file their counter-affidavits and submit other evidence for their defense.

State Prosecutor Lamberto Fabros gave the respondents until January 22 to submit any additional evidence and counter-affidavits, after which the case would be deemed submitted for resolution. (JCV/Sunnex)