MANILA - Former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. asked Thursday the Supreme Court to hold the trial of his rebellion case either in Davao City or General Santos City rather than in Quezon City.
Ampatuan Sr. in a petition filed before the Supreme Court opposed the move of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to transfer the trial of his rebellion case to Manila.
Ampatuan stood charged for the November 23 massacre of 57 people consisting of rival Mangudadatu clan members, supporters, lawyers, and at least 30 journalists on a hillside of Ampatuan town, Maguindanao.
Other respondents in the case are Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, former acting Maguindanao governor Sajid Ampatuan, Anwar Ampatuan, Akmad Ampatuan, and more than 600 others.
The rebellion charges against him stemmed from the alleged uprising that he and his sub-leaders led against government troops, following the arrest of his son, Andal Jr., in connection with the murders.
Andal Jr. is now detained at the National Bureau of Investigation and is facing multiple murder charges before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court.
On top of the rebellion charges where he is principal accused, the Ampatuan patriarch and other relatives and supporters are also undergoing preliminary investigation before the justice department for multiple murder in connection with the Maguindanao carnage.
In a motion for reconsideration, Ampatuan lawyer Philip Sigfrid Fortun asked the High Court to order the return of the venue of the trial to a court either in General Santos City or Davao City.
Fortun said there is no evidence that the Davao City and General Santos City courts are partial or unfair.
"(These cities) are centers of commerce in Mindanao. They are run by a different set of politicians detached from and having nothing to do with the Ampatuans. The sphere of influence of the latter does not extend over the two cities," he said.
He argued that it would be more convenient to hold the trial in Mindanao since most of the witnesses are there. He added that there is also no evidence showing partiality of the courts there that should have warranted the transfer.
In reaction, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera said they would oppose the petition of Ampatuan.
"The prosecution and law enforcement agencies can better handle the case and security of witnesses here," she told reporters in an interview.
The High Court last Jan. 12 granted the DOJ's request for the transfer of the rebellion case against the Ampatuans already filed in court at Cotabato City to the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
The court allowed the transfer of venue of the rebellion case because of "security reason and influence of the families involved in the province."
Specific acts of rebellion cited by the DOJ included "massing up armed men and organizing assemblies" and "preventing public prosecutors form being available to conduct inquest and preliminary investigations."
A total of 638 others are undergoing preliminary investigation at the DOJ in connection to the alleged rebellion in Maguindanao, which was used by the Palace as main ground for issuing Proclamation No. 1959 that put most areas in the province under martial law. (ECV/Sunnex)