Justice Secretary Alberto Agra is digging in his heels after he created a political firestorm by inexplicably dropping charges against two suspects in the Maguindanao massacre. The massacre of 58 people in November was so brazen, so brutal, and so shocking; and public reaction was so swift and universal that the Arroyo regime has no choice but to go after the suspects, despite the fact that the Ampatuan clan are Gloria Arroyo’s most loyal and reliable allies.
From the start, there were doubts about how serious the Regime was in going after the Ampatuans. It went out of its way to charge them with rebellion, a crime that they did not commit. It declared martial law and dispensed with the issuance of warrants while it was gathering evidence, laying a legal ground for the courts to rule that the evidence is inadmissible.
In the meantime, witnesses have been systematically intimidated, threatened, and maybe even killed to weaken the case against the Ampatuans.
But it seems that all that groundwork was unnecessary because all the Regime needed to do was install a justice secretary that would simply drop the charges. When I interviewed Agra on the Rundown he said his decision was based on his appreciation of the evidence. He said there was nothing to indicate that Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan were present during the massacre or were part of the planning. He cited cellphone bills and fight manifests that showed they were not in Maguindanao at the time of the killings. I asked if their absence at the crime scene meant they were not part of the planning. He said he had witnesses that said they were not. But there were also witnesses that claim they were. He said he believed the other witnesses more. What makes it even more unsettling is that Agra can choose at any time to “review” the evidence and order the charges dropped. He can do this any time. Like magic, he can make the case go away. End of story.
Like the killings themselves, Agra’s decision to drop the charges was so brazen that even his own prosecutors had to wash their hands of the decision. I think its impossible that a decision this controversial would be made by Agra on his own but when I asked him if he had “consulted” Malacanang, he said he didn’t. But having observed the Regime for nearly a decade, I know that big decisions like this are not made by an acting secretary on his own. They are made by the President.