MANILA -- The government said Monday that it will appeal a lower court’s ruling dismissing the rebellion charges filed against a powerful clan in Maguindanao, as it called the decision “not valid.”
Earlier, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC), which is processing all charges against the Ampatuans, ordered the dismissal of the rebellion charges against former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and the others accused for lack of evidence.
Judge Vivencio Baclig of the Quezon City RTC Branch 77 also ordered the immediate release of the Ampatuans from detention.
However, Acting Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary and concurrent Solicitor General Alberto Agra said Monday that Baclig’s decision was not valid as the Ampatuan clan is still facing murder charges in connection with the Maguindanao massacre in November 23, 2009.
“They (Ampatuans) should continue to be detained because there is probable cause for murder,” he said, adding that the government intended to also appeal the court’s decision.
“What I promise is that I will raise this to the Supreme Court,” he said.
The Ampatuans were accused of orchestrating the killing of 57 people in the province of Maguindanao in November 23 last year to stop a rival politician from running against a clan member in the May elections.
Among the dead were the wife and supporters of the rival politician, along with more than 30 journalists and their staff -- the deadliest known attack on media workers in the world. The killings elevated the Philippines to the top of a list of the world's most dangerous places for journalists.
Ampatuan Sr. and four of his sons -- Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Armm) Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, former Maguindanao acting governor Sajid Ampatuan, Akmad Ampatuan, and Anwar Ampatuan -- were among 24 people charged with rebellion in December for allegedly trying to rise up against the government.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo imposed martial law for nine days after the massacre, saying the move was necessary because the Ampatuans had tried to use their own private army of 3,000 militiamen to protect themselves from the arresting officers.
Baclig, however, found no probable cause of uprising from the Ampatuans to foil their arrest in relation to the Maguindanao massacre.
Pictures of pro-Ampatuan crowds submitted by prosecutors "hardly portray a menacing and violent armed mob," Baclig said, adding that no one in the group was armed.
But Malacañang maintained that there was rebellion in Maguindanao when the government declared Martial Law in the province.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Gary Olivar said although they respect the discretion of the Quezon City court, the administration upheld its decision to declare Martial Law in Maguindanao, saying it was the right thing to do.
“We continue to stand by the decision to declare Martial Law in Maguindanao, not only because there was credible evidence of rebellion, but also to expedite apprehension of suspects, collection of evidence, securing of victims’ relatives and witnesses, restoration of normal government operations and securing the peace,” Olivar said.
He appealed to parties involved, especially to the victim’s families, to remain vigilant and patient to the ruling of the court.
“There are still other cases being heard against the Ampatuans and their alleged accomplices, so we counsel continued vigilance by all parties, especially the victim’s families, to ensure that justice is done,” Olivar said.
“The system offers an appeals process to all concerned parties including the government prosecutors,” he added.
Although cleared of rebellion charges, Ampatuan Sr. and others facing multiple murder charges will remain in jail while waiting for their trial.
They are now detained at the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) Detention Center in General Santos City.
Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., the primary suspect in the massacre, is being held at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) detention cell in Manila.
DOJ Acting Secretary Agra directed Monday the Philippine National Police and NBI to speed up the arrest of the 188 more suspects in the massacre. (Jill Beltran/AP/PNA/Sunnex)