By Ed Lingao

SEVERAL FAMILIES of victims of the Maguindanao Massacre are demanding the replacement of Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III as head of the Maguindanao prosecution team, saying they have lost confidence in the way Baraan has been handling the case.

The families made the appeal even as they disclosed alleged offers for money by people claiming to represent the Ampatuan clan in exchange for their withdrawal from the Ampatuan massacre case. The offers allegedly range from six million pesos to twenty million, with a more recent offer being made as late as March this year.

At least ten families of victims of the massacre flew from Mindanao to Manila Wednesday morning to decry the Department of Justice’s handling of the case. The ten families are part of a group of 44 families that are protesting the Justice Department’s decision to rest its presentation of evidence against members of the Ampatuan family for the 2009 Maguindanao massacre where 58 people were murdered.

Relatives of victims of the Ampatuan Massacre during a news conference yesterday in Manila, Philippines.

Relatives of victims of the Ampatuan Massacre during a news conference yesterday in Manila, Philippines.

Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu, who lost his wife and three other relatives in the massacre, said majority of the families of the victims have lost faith in Baraan, who oversees the prosecution panel, especially after he held at least two private meetings with Atty. Sigfrid Fortun, lead counsel of the Ampatuans. Mangudadatu said the meeting was improper because Baraan is in charge of the panel prosecuting the Ampatuan family for the Maguindanao massacre.

Ang pagbisita, sana hindi na pinahintulutan ni Undersecretary Baraan,” Mangudadatu said. “May secretary naman siya, he should have said huwag na papuntahin siya dahil ako ang abogado ng mga biktima ng Ampatuan massacre.”

(Undersecretary Baraan should not have allowed that visit. He has a secretary, he could have just said do not let Fortun come here because I am the lawyer of the Ampatuan massacre victims.)

“Maghanap na si (Justice) Secretary Leila de Lima ng maghahandle ng kasong ito,” Mangudadatu said after a presscon held by the families of the victims. “Kaming mga kliyente niya, kliyente ng gobnerno, at kliyente ng DOJ ay nawalan na ng trust kay Undersecretary Baraan.”

(Justice Sec. Leila de Lima should find someone else to handle this case. We are (Baraan’s) clients, clients of the government, clients of the DOJ, and we have lost trust in Undersecretary Baraan.)

Private prosecutors Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas revealed the meeting between Baraan and Fortun earlier last week, as they raised the alarm over what they called questionable decisions being made by government prosecutors handling the case. Both Baraan and Fortun have since confirmed the meetings, saying Fortun was just consulting Baraan on a land dispute case his family had in Cavite province.

“Ang laki ng tiwala at respeto namin sa Malacanang at kay Secretary de Lima, pero hindi ko masasabi iyan kay Undersecretary Baraan,” added Atty. Gemma Oquendo, a private prosecutor who lost her father and sister in the massacre.

Oquendo said it was also curious that Fortun could easily get an appointment with Baraan, whereas families of the victims have a hard time setting meetings with him. “Kami hindi pwede, pero si Fortun, pwede.”

(We have a lot of respect for Malacanang and Secretary de Lima, but I cannot say the same for Undersecretary Baraan. We cannot meet with him, but Fortun can meet with him.)

“Nandito kami para magpahayag ng pagtutol sa mga kaganapan sa prosekusyon,” Oquendo said. “Dapat pakinggan ang hinaing ng kanilang mga kliyente.”

(We are here to register our objection to what is happening with the prosecution. They should listen to the cries of their clients.)

Baraan could not be reached as of presstime. His secretary said he was busy in several meetings. Text messages to his mobile phone have been left unanswered.

The families that faced the media Wednesday morning also revealed continuing efforts to entice them to withdraw from the case in exchange for money. In at least one case, people claiming to represent the Ampatuan clan even demanded a commission or a cut from the compromise settlement, they said.

Karen Araneta, widow of DZRH reporter Henry Araneta, said she attended at least five meetings in Mindanao last year where at least ten families of victims were being enticed by people claiming to represent the Ampatuans to sign a compromise deal. Araneta said the families were told by these middlemen to name their price, on the condition that they give a commission to the middlemen.

Araneta said the other condition was for the families to pin the blame for the massacre on Mangudadatu. Araneta said she refused to sign on to the compromise deal, and is not aware if any of the other families have done so.

“Pag bayad, may komisyon raw sila,” Araneta said. “Hindi specific kung magkano (ang settlement), kahit malaki raw, magbigkas lang kami.”

(Once you are paid, you give them a commission. There was no specifics on how much the settlement would be. You just tell them how much you want, even if it is huge.)

Araneta also called on other families of victims to come out in the open and reveal the offers they have gotten. “Kung sino man yung inaalok na nagpapabayad, lumantad din kayo para hindi lang ako magisa ang lumantad,” she said in the press conference. (Whoever else was offered payment, please come out so that I am not alone in disclosing this.)

Atty. Oquendo also furnished reporters copies of a draft affidavit of desistance that she said had been given to some families of the victims to fill out. In the quitclaim, families of the victims are asked to release Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son Andal Jr. of all criminal and civil liabilities as a result of the Ampatuan massacre. In exchange, the family is to be given six million pesos.

The document Oquendo furnished reporters was filled out, but the names and addresses of the family were blacked out for security reasons. The affidavit of desistance was dated March 2014, or just four months ago. It had not yet been signed and notarized. It was also not clear if the family named in the document eventually accepted the settlement.

A COPY of the affidavit of desistance presented to reporters yesterday. Family members who agree to the offer of settlements will be made to sign this document that will absolve two of the principal suspects in the murder case.

A COPY of the affidavit of desistance presented to reporters yesterday. Family members who agree to the offer of settlements will be made to sign this document that will absolve two of the principal suspects in the murder case.

“For and in consideration of the full settlement, all of which are acknowledged to our complete satisfaction, and in grateful appreciation thereof, we, together with the imemdiately (sic) members of our family, do hereby release and forever discharge all the accused, particularly Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Andal Unsay Ampatuan Jr. in criminal case nos. Q-09-162148 to 162172, Q-09-162216 to 162231, Q-10-162652 to 162666 and Q-10-163766,” the affidavit states.

Interestingly, the affidavit of desistance refers to the Maguindanao massacre only as an accident. The document further states that the affidavit is not to be construed as an admission of guilt or liability.

“This affidavit of desistance and release shall be pleaded as a bar to any suit or proceedings which may be taken or have taken in connection with the aforementioned accident, and the payment for compromise moreover, is not, and shall never be construed as an admission of liability but merely a final compromise ,” the affidavit states.

Ampatuan lead lawyer Sigfrid Fortun for his part denied knowledge of any compromise deal from the side of the Ampautan family. Fortun said he is only one of several lawyers hired by the clan, and that he was not aware of any offers being made by other lawyers.

“The Ampatuans have many lawyers. I am but one of them,” Fortun said in a text message. “What they or their other relatives are doing in Maguidnanao is mostly their own without prior consultation or by-your-leave from me. Sorry I have no info about that.”

It is not clear to the families of the 58 massacre victims if any of them have accepted a compromise deal or signed any affidavit of desistance. Some of the relatives of the victims however say that they would never consider a compromise settlement.

“Kahit isang sakong pera pa ang ibagsak sa harap ko, hindi ko talaga tatanggapin iyon (Even if they drop a sack of money in front of me, I would never accept it),” said Mary Grace Morales, who lost a husband and a sister in the massacre.

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