MANILA, April 18 – The celebrated Maguindanao massacre case took another twist when two members of the powerful Ampatuan clan tagged as two of the main suspects in the Nov. 23 killing of 57 people, 30 of them journalists were cleared by the Department of Justice because the “existence of conspiracy was not proven.” Cleared of multiple murder charges were Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and Mayor Akmad Ampatuan of the town of Mamasapano in Maguindanao province.
Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra ruled over the weekend that the “existence of conspiracy was not proven and being relatives and having similar surnames does not mean there was a conspiracy.”
Agra ordered the prosecution to remove the names of ARMM governor and the mayor of Mamasapano from the charge sheet.
But Agra said murder charges against former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Unsay town mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and the more than the 180 other accused remain.
He said documentary evidence presented by the accused proved that Zaldy Ampatuan was not at the scene of the crime when the massacre happened.
“There’s no proof of conspiracy so it gave weight to Zaldy Ampatuan’s alibi. I cleared Zaldy based on the evidence he presented, consisting of plane tickets and cell phone records that he was not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre, and a witness who testified that he was not in Maguindanao at the time,” Agra said.
According to Agra he cleared Akmad Ampatuan because Kenny Dalagdag, a witness, did not identify him.
Secondly, Akmad “was not included in the charge sheet of the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP), and third because he had an alibi, that he joined a medical mission elsewhere at the time of the massacre,” Agra said.
Almost immediately, various groups howled protests over the resolution.
Agra said he expected his resolution to spark a controversy. “I resolved the petition for review based on evidence before me and not because it is popular clamor or what,” Agra said, adding that he expected his ruling would ignite a controversy.
The Maguindanao massacre was condemned here and abroad. It was the biggest wholesale gruesome murder of 30 journalists in any part of the globe.
The 57 helpless victims some of them women were shot at close range. They were buried near the massacre site. A backhoe was used to bury the massacre victims in a bid to cover up the killing.