THE National Bureau of Investigation has been ordered to investigate allegations that Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III and the panel of prosecutors received millions of pesos in bribes from the Ampatuan family to sabotage the Maguindanao massacre case.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she issued the order even though she found the accusations of private prosecutor Nena Santos and state witness Lakmudin Saliao to be “incredible.”
“I will ask the NBI to investigate the alleged bribery offer. Even the panel is asking for an investigation because it’s so unfair to have accusations without basis. They are already affected by this [controversy],” De Lima said.
De Lima again defended Baraan and the panel, saying they enjoyed her full trust and confidence.
“They’re doing their job. I don’t see any reason to doubt this present panel in their handling of the case. If they were indeed compromised, then they should have destroyed the case already,” she said.
“We have now reached this stage – the case has already rested. Why are other people muddling it?” she added.
De Lima said she wondered why Santos, her best friend from law school, made the allegation that many state prosecutors had received bribes from the accused in the case through an emissary.
Santos alleged that a bagman for the Ampatuans had offered her P300 million in exchange for her withdrawal as private prosecutor in 2013.
“An emissary, the driver of the family, was sent to talk to me. On Dec. 13, 2013, I wrote Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, seeking a probe on the matter, to no avail,” she said.
“Much as I wanted to file criminal charges against the Ampatuans with the Justice Department, I cannot. Maybe after De Lima’s term,” she said.
Her client, Maguindanao Gov. Esmail Mangudadatu, whose wife Genalyn was among the 58 slain in the massacre, has already asked the Justice Department to replace Baraan as supervising official in the case.
De Lima also defended the prosecutors’ decision to rest their case, a move that Santos had opposed.
“That is something I really find perplexing. Why don’t they want to rest the case? If we don’t rest now, when will see conviction?” said De Lima, who earlier vowed to convict Ampatuan before President Benigno Aquino III’s term ends in 2016.
De Lima also doubted Saliao’s allegation that a P20 million bribe was given to Baraan, as part of P50 million for the panel of prosecutors given through lawyer Sigfrid Fortun.
“He claimed that the offer was made when he was still with the Ampatuans and that was before 2010 when Undersecretary Baraan was probably not yet here and the composition of the panel was still different. And yet he’s accusing the present panel, which is quite unfair,” she said.
Baraan and the panel of prosecutors vehemently denied the claims made by Saliao in an interview with Bombo Radyo.
“Undersecretary Baraan and the panel of prosecutors, vehemently deny having received any amount from the Ampatuan camp,” they said in a statement.
“Baraan was not yet in government and the present panel was not yet constituted,” they added, when the bribe was allegedly paid.
“Based on this timeline alone, it is clear that Saliao’s allegations are false. His own story betrays his claims. The panel of prosecutors is confident in the quality and strength of its evidence in order to bring justice to the victims and the Filipino people,” the statement said.
Baraan also described Saliao’s allegations as “complete fabrication.”
He added that these allegations would not dampen his commitment “to bring justice in these cases.”
Santos, however, stuck to her allegations and said she was considering filing graft charges against Baraan before the Office of the Ombudsman.
In an interview, Santos said Baraan and other government employees must be held liable for the alleged P50 million bribe from the Ampatuans.
“I will prioritize the filing of the graft charges against Baraan. I believe Justice Secretary Leila de Lima does not have the capability to control the Office of the Ombudsman,” she told the Manila Standard.
Santos admitted that when she was interviewed on television last week, she made a sweeping accusation about the prosecutors who received bribes.
“To be fair to those who are not involved, I now specifically state that among the members of the present panel, the following were not named by a witnesses privy to the payoffs: fiscals Ira Jordana Gomez, Cesar Angelo Chavez, Amor Robles, Arthur Velasco, Susan Villanueva, Tofel Austria, Benjamin Samson and Clarissa Kuong,” she said.
Despite the detention of the Ampatuan patriarch and the other main suspects -- his children -- at Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan in Taguig City, the Ampatuan clan is still very influential in Maguindanao and has the money to bribe people, she said.
“Three towns in Maguindanao have elected mayors, vice mayors, councilors and other local officials belonging to the Ampatuans,” she said.
She questioned why the Ombudsman has not acted on the plunder suit against Ampatuan Sr. filed in 2011.
“We will create noise so that people would know that the state prosecutors had insisted to rest the presentation of evidence and witnesses against the Ampatuans despite the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221’s denial of the motions three times,” she said.
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