The recent decision of Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra reversing his earlier decision to absolve Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from multiple charges filed against them for the Maguindanao massacre is a reason for Agra himself to celebrate. Until the reversal, he came close to beating Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s notoriety as the most hated public officer of the land. His decision will at least ensure that he will now be a distant second to his boss.
But even in his effort to recover from the flak that he has received, Agra is still full of misrepresentation and half-truths. For instance, he now claims that his reversal of his ruling is not because it was flawed, but because of new witnesses that attested to the fact that both Ampatuans were present during the planning of the massacre. This is the ultimate in palusot.
Truth to tell, the testimony of two mother witnesses to this effect are wholly unnecessary because from the very beginning, there was at least one witness that already said this. Surely, for determination of probable cause, which is only defined as the likelihood that a crime was committed and probably by the accused, that lone testimony would have sufficed. In any case, Agra still has to overhaul our jurisprudence that alibi is the weakest defense and cannot prevail as against positive testimony.
Then there is the matter of P55 million in assistance to the victims. As a pragmatist, I will advise my clients to go ahead and accept assistance freely given by well-meaning private individuals and by the state lottery office. The fact needs to be highlighted, though, that the victims are entitled to compensation from the state as a consequence of the commission of an internationally wrongful act. Here, the breach is that of the duty to protect and promote the right to life since all 197 persons accused of the massacre are all state organs: police, military, auxiliaries, and elected local officials. Money should hence be paid to them as compensation for the state’s breach and not by way of charity.
The timing of the financial assistance is also suspect. It is as if Secretary Agra is paying for the trust of the victims and public. That trust, of course, was lost when he issued that earlier resolution. Perhaps, he should be reminded that trust is earned and cannot be bought.
What about the pending disbarment case against Secretary Agra? It is in the nature of these complaints that they should not be terminated regardless of a compromise between the parties. The rationale for this is that a person who does not deserve to be a member of the most noble legal profession should not be in it even for a minute if he is undeserving.
Reversal or not, the reality remains that Agra nearly absolved two of the principal suspects in the country’s most heinous atrocity without even the benefit of hearing some of the victims, who were not furnished either copies of the petitions for review filed by the two Ampatuans, the right to be heard. This smacks of a blatant disregard of the single most important right of any citizen, that of due process. Lawyers took an oath to uphold and not to violate the constitution that provided for this right.
Moreover, the victims have made up their minds: full speed ahead.