• PAO to Ampatuan: Ask for continuous trial

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    Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Acosta has advised Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, 46, the principal suspect in the Maguindanao massacre in 2009, to “ask for a continuous trial so that judgment can finally be rendered” instead of getting the services of top PAO lawyers.

    Ampatuan has asked the PAO to give him the topnotch lawyer of PAO.

    The exchange took place in the PAO medical/dental missions in the jails, including a Quezon City jail and the National Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa City on Thursday with The Manila Times team.

    The former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said he was willing to drop the services of lawyer Sigfrid Fortun.

    Acosta said she had former colleagues in the prosecution panel. “I can’t grant his request. Many will ask to inhibit themselves in the case. They were my former colleagues in PAO,” Acosta (who runs a regular column at the Times) said

    Zaldy and his father, Andal Ampatuan Sr., 73, were among those Acosta spoke with during the mission.

    Acosta asked the Ampatuans to file a motion for continuous trial from its current schedules of Wednesdays and Thursdays to Monday through Thursday afternoons so the case could progceed faster.

    A source, who asked not to be named, said it was the prosecutors who declined to hold Monday to Thursday hearings for reasons known only to them.

    “All we want is a speedy trial. Convict all those who are guilty and free those who have no knowledge or did not participate in the incident,” said Zaldy who still denies masterminding the carnage and claims he was in Malacañang talking with then President now Rep. Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga when the massacre took place.

    He claimed a certain “Talusan” who implicated him in the massacre, was the one involved. “What we are asking is for the Department of Justice to bring this Talusan to court and let him testify so our lawyers could ask him questions. But, so far, he has yet to be presented in court.”

    Andal Sr. added that he was also in a meeting. So far, among the Ampatuans, it was only Andal Jr., 33, whom witnesses said was present at the massacre site, and was seen and heard giving orders during the carnage.

    Killed were 58 people, including 32 journalists, some of them buried in a mass grave soon after. The victims were about to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, then vice mayor of Buluan town and now Maguin–danao governor. Magundadatu was running against Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

    A source said the prosecution panel is about to end the presentation of witnesses and evidence in the following weeks. Next on the agenda is the petition for bail.

    To help in the speedy trial, the Supreme Court earlier this month appointed a third judge, Genie Gapas-Agbada of Virac, Catan–duanes Regional Trial Court branch 42, to help in the arraignments and pre-trials.

    Agbada will assist QC Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of RTC branch 221 and Judge Rita Bascos-Sarabia.

    Of the 150 inmates in QC Jail annex, 97 are suspects in the Ampatuan massacre, including Andal Sr., Andal Jr. and Zaldy. Eight inmates are related to the Ampatuans, according to warden Senior Insp. Reuben Olivo.

    More than 80 suspects are still at large. Some 40 police officers implicated in the carnage are now detained with the Ampatuans.

    But four of the 150 detained in QC jail are cases of mistaken identity, one of them is about to be released anytime next week upon completion of required documents, a source said.

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