A FORMER employee of Andal Ampatuan Sr. who turned state witness against his ex-boss in the Maguindanao massacre case has accused Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III and other public prosecutors of striking a P50 million deal with the Ampatuan patriarch.
In an interview with Bombo Radyo Monday, Lakmodin Saliao, a helper of Andal Sr. for more than two decades, said the P50 million bribe was meant to ensure the freedom of the Ampatuans, the primary suspects in the 2009 massacre of 58 people, including 32 journalists and media workers.
“I was with the Ampatuans then. I was the one who personally called Attorney (Sigfred) Fortun to discuss how we can pay off the DOJ panel. That was the instruction of (Andal) Sr. to Attorney Fortun. Attorney Fortun told me that we have P50 million to give to the panel. The P50 million was deposited in the account of AttorneyManaloto, a lawyer of the Ampatuans, and the money will go to the DOJ panel,” he said in the vernacular.
“When we were transferred to Manila, we confirmed where the money went. At least P20 million went to Undersecretary Baraan to pay off the panel and overturn the case, so that the Ampatuans can be freed. About P7.5 million was given to Paula, the secretary of Undersecretary Baraan,” he said.
Andal Sr., who was the governor of Maguindanao at the time of the massacre, is on trial for the killings.
Saliao said he felt the need to speak out on the bribery after Baraan attacked private prosecutor Nena Santos, who claimed that money appeared to have changed hands to damage the case.
“I want to clarify that I am not taking sides. All we want is for the case to be concluded,” Saliao added.
Santos, one of the private lawyers of families of 27 victims in the killings, disclosed that there is a rift between the private and government prosecutors in the massacre case.
She also hinted that many state prosecutors have received and continue to receive bribes from the accused.
Baraan, in an earlier television interview, dared Santos to present proof to back up her claim.
“It is important for us to get to the bottom of this so we can cleanse the ranks of the prosecution team if it is true. This is a very serious allegation,” he said.
“She (Santos) should have reported to the police, or asked for help so we could entrap whoever was trying to bribe her...We will demand [that she] produce the evidence,” Baraan added.
Baraan said Santos could be disbarred if she is proven to have lied.
“It’s a very very serious allegation. It’s very irresponsible. If she has evidence, she should make these public. Otherwise, they (prosecutors) will take action against her...She can be disbarred for that,” he said.
“Talk is cheap. It is important that you have something to back up what you’re saying, especially since this kind of talk destroys reputations,” Baraan said.
Malacañang, for its part, has asked the Justice Department to look into Saliao’s allegations.
“We will ask Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to shed light on this matter. All of us in government and those of you in media monitor the Maguindanao trial case,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“Again, we would like to see a conviction,” Lacierda added.
De Lima, however, defended her prosecutors, and dared Santos to substantiate her insinuation.
“If the accuser is serious, then I challenge [her] to file the proper case,” De Lima said.
Santos along with fellow private prosecutor Prima Jesusa Quinsayas made the accusation last week.
De Lima said she found the allegation of bribery was based on unsound logic.
“Simply because she rejected the P300 million alleged bribe offer of the Ampatuan, it already went to public prosecutors? That is simply preposterous. That’s a big jump in conclusion,” De Lima said.
She also asked why Santos would want to wait until De Lima left office to reveal what she knew.
“Show me the evidence. Why would she wait for my exit here in DOJ? Go ahead,” she said.
Still, De Lima said she was inclined to order the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the allegations of bribery.
De Lima and Santos were close friends since they were in San Beda Law School.
Santos said “many” state prosecutors were receiving bribes from the accused in the case.
She claimed that there were two attempts to bribe her by the Ampatuan camp, through an emissary.
A second attempt was allegedly made in 2012, as attested to by a witness who said an offer of P300 million was made for Santos to drop the case.
Santos said she has evidence to prove her allegations, but added that it is not yet time to disclose these.
De Lima also defended the Justice Department panel’s decision to rest its case against the principal accused, Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and 27 others.
The Justice secretary also sided with Baraan and the panel that the move would expedite the resolution of the case after presenting overwhelming evidence against the accused – contrary to the plan of Santos to present more evidence.
Santos, counsel of Maguindanao Gov. Esmail Mangudadatu whose wife Genalyn was among the 58 slain in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre, has had differences with government prosecutors since 2011 over the handling of the case.
At that time, De Lima sided with Santos and replaced members of the Justice Department panel.
In a press conference, Baraan assailed Santos and Quinssayas for alleging bribery.
“This is a complete fabrication,” Baraan said.
“Definitely, that is a malicious statement. What is her agenda? We have only one agenda, and that is to speed up the case and win it for the country and for the families of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre.”
On Thursday, Santos and Quinsayas said there was a “professional rift” between the public and private prosecutors handling the case, and that could lead to a mistrial.
They also said they opposed the decision of the public prosecutors to rest their case because that would mean no further evidence could be presented.
Santos reportedly claimed that some prosecutors might have received bribes from the Ampatuans to ensure the case would not prosper.
But Baraan immediately rejected Santos’ claim that he had received bribes from the Ampatuans, but admitted that defense counsel Siegfried Fortun indeed paid him a surprise visit in his office two years ago.
Baraan recalled that he had just come out of a meeting on the ground floor of the DOJ main building when he was informed that Fortun was already in his office. Baraan said he and Fortun talked about a land property case and not about the Ampatuan case during the meeting.
“That’s why her [Santos’] statement was very malicious and I would categorically say that there is no truth to that,” Baraan said.
“We want to know on what she based her allegations, but as far as I’m concerned that’s totally outlandish.
“Who is foolish enough to drop the case? Her allegation is juvenile, it is childish.”
Baraan said he did not know why Santos would rather wait for De Lima’s term to end before presenting her evidence on the alleged bribery of the public prosecutors.
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