• MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE

    Defense lawyers’ pullout to derail case – Palace

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    MALACAÑANG on Friday said an apparently orchestrated pullout of defense lawyers in the Maguin–danao Massacre case could derail swift justice demanded by families of victims.

    Its deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte, however, assured that state prosecutors handling the case are ready to oppose any “dilatory tac–tics” being employed by the defense.

    “We certainly hope that this withdrawal of the accused’s lawyers is not intended to delay the trial. In any case, the DOJ [Department of Justice] panel of prosecutors are on guard against dilatory tactics,” Valte said in a statement.

    “After a certain period of time, under the Rules of Procedure, if a lawyer is not retained by the accused, he or she will have to be defended by a public attorney,” she added.

    Valte’s statements came after three defense lawyers in the massacre case resigned as legal counsels for the Ampatuans.

    The lawyers gave no ‘reason for leaving the accused.

    Andres Manuel, Paris Real, and Sigfrid Fortun submitted their withdrawal of appearance in three separate filings before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221.

    Fortun submitted his withdrawal of appearance for the accused Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his son Andal Ampatuan Jr.

    Manuel and Real also withdrew as counsels for Ampatuan Jr. and the other co-accused in the case.

    Their withdrawal came amid explosive revelations of alleged bribery of certain prosecutors by the accused, with Fortun’s name being dragged into the fray for his having supposedly been consulted about the matter.

    On Friday, Justice Undersec–retary Francisco Baraan 3rd, who had vehemently denied bribery accusations and had asked the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the charges in order to give him and the other state prosecutors a chance to air their side, also disputed claims that he and Fortun are friends just because they came from one law firm.

    Baraan said in a radio interview he had long left that law firm by the time Fortun came in.

    As for an unscheduled meeting he had with Fortun, he said that was two years ago, and that Fortun just dropped by his office to discuss another case.

    The Ampatuans, a powerful, well-armed and wealthy political clan that has controlled huge parts of Muslim Mindanao for decades, are the main suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre in which 58 people were killed, including 32 members of the print and broadcast media.

    The simultaneous departures of lawyers for the Maguindanao Massacre suspects have prompted the Quezon City court to order 25 of the accused, including mem–bers of the Ampatuan clan, to identify their new lawyers.

    “In view of the foregoing, [the]accused are directed to immediately engage the services of new counsels who will assist them in these cases,” read the one-page order issued also on Friday by RTC Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

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