ANY settlement between the families of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre and the
Ampatuan clan will not be binding and government prosecutors will continue to pursue the criminal aspect of the “most heinous crime in PH history,” Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said on Tuesday.
Reacting to private prosecutor Harry Roque’s claims that 14 of the 58 families have opted for a settlement, De Lima called on the victims’ kin to resist monetary temptation.
“I fully understand the impatience and/or restlessness on the part of the victims’ families vis-a-vis the pace of the trial. But they know that, while slow, the proceedings continue to move and progress. They should resist temptations for monetary settlement from the accused,” De Lima said.
“It would be both legally and morally wrong for them to settle with those responsible for the most heinous crime in PH history,” she added.
The Justice chief explained that “any waiver or desistance to be executed by the victims’ families at this point will not be binding on the court.”
“And the DOJ prosecutors will never support such moves,” she stressed.
She explained that any compromise in a criminal case can only affect the civil liability but not the criminal liability of the accused.
“Any waiver of criminal liability is against public policy, hence, null and void. The only exceptions are in the prosecution of the crimes of adultery, concubinage, seduction, abduction, rape and acts of lasciviousness where pardon by the offended party precludes prosecution thereof,” de Lima pointed out.
The case, according to her, “is more than the private interests of the victims and their families but one which is imbued with deep public interest.”
“It cannot and should not be bargained away for any amount of money,” she emphasized.
Like de Lima, Malacañang was miffed by Roque’s revelation, prompting officials to denounce the supposed settlement.
Roque represents four of the 14 families that reportedly signed quitclaims in February. He also represents the families of most of the 32 journalists slain in the November 23, 2009 carnage.
Deputy Presidential spokesman Abigail Valte said the government will pursue the case even though some families of the victims have reportedly signed quitclaims.
The President had already ordered state prosecutors handling the case to oppose any dilatory tactics, she said.
“The instructions of the President stands. For our public prosecutors to avoid delay in trying the case and to object to dilatory tactics,” she added.
Valte also downplayed Roque’s claim that the government should provide compensation to families of the massacre victims.
While the suspects of the Maguindanao massacre were elected officials, the government is not part of the crime, she explained.
”In any criminal case, there is an accused and it is understood that once he is proven guilty in court, that will include the civil aspect of the case,” Valte added.
She said the Aquino government has offered different forms of assistance to the families of the victims.
For his part, Maguindanao Gov. Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu vowed that he will never give up the fight to win justice not just for his wife and other relatives who were mowed down but also for the rest of the victims of the 2009 Maguindanao massacre.
“Kahit ako na lang ang matira sa kasong ito, ipaglalaban ko ito at ng aking pamilya kahit hanggang sa huling hininga ko [Even if I am the only one left, I will still fight for this case until my last breath], ” Mangudadatu said.
While admitting that he had no knowledge about the supposed settlement, Mangudadatu supported assertions that even if it pushes through, it would not affect the criminal case against the Ampatuans.
“Tuloy pa rin ang criminal case laban sa kanila,” he said.
Ampatuan clan members were charged with 58 counts of murder before the sala of Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Presiding Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.
Mangudadatu’s wife, Bai Genalyn, his youngest sister and several other relatives were among those killed in the massacre.
Meanwhile, Roque said the negotiator who secured the signatures of the victims’ families was killed two weeks after the deal was signed.
The lawyer said the scheme would lead to an affidavit of waiver and quitclaim. It also points the blame to Mangudadatu.
“I will clarify to my clients that such a settlement is impossible. A murder case cannot be settled. Only ‘private crimes’ can be settled,” Roque told an early morning TV show.
“They cannot settle a murder case, especially now that they have already submitted their respective testimonies before the court,” he added.
Roque said he will go to Mindanao to gather more information about the deal and establish the relationship of the slain negotiator with the Ampatuans.