BY ELLEN TORDESILLAS
I hope doing things at the last minute is not SOP in the Aquino administration.
It happened in the case of Gloria Arroyo when it took them one year and five months to file a case against her and only when there was a possibility that she would flee the country to avoid accountability.
It happened again in the case of the frozen assets of former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and members of his family who are principal suspects in the massacre of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, on Nov. 23, 2009 in Maguindanao.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, Inc., in a statement, said that a week before the Dec. 2 expiry of the freeze order on the Ampatuan assets consisting of 597 bank accounts, 142 firearms, 132 motor vehicles, and 113 houses and lots, they called the attention of the Office of the Solicitor General and the Anti-Money Laundering Council about it.
NUJP and FFFJ said they told OSG and AMLC of ” the possibility that the Ampatuans could take such delay as a chance to retake control of their enormous unexplained wealth to put pressure to bear on their trial for the Maguindanao massacre.”
Oh well, the OSG did something last Friday, the date the freeze order expired.
Atty. Romel Bagares of the Roque and Butuyan law office that handles the case of 15 of the 58 Maguindanao massacre victims said the Office of the Solicitor General filed last Friday a forfeiture case against the frozen assets of the Ampatuans at the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 22.
Romel also said the court issued a 20-day Temporary restraining order.
Just in the nick of time.
But the Ampatuans did try.
Inquirer reported that last Saturday, two lawyers of the Ampatuans went to a Cotabato City Banco de Oro branch, where some of the frozen deposits are, and tried to withdraw some money.
The report said BDO manager Ramona Bansuan didn’t allow the release of the money citing “lack of authority.”
A commotion ensued, the report said, prompting Bansuan to ask the assistance of the police. The lawyers were not able to withdraw any amount.
Despite the foiled attempt by the Ampatuans, the NUJP and FFFJ expressed concern over the unwarranted delay and apparent lack of attention and negligence that the AMLC and the OSG had accorded this case.
The two media organizations took note that “The AMLC filed its request for the freezing of the multibillion assets and hundreds of bank accounts of the Ampatuans only last May—a full 18 months after the massacre, during the investigation of which the existence of these billions and other assets was discovered, and in fact amply reported in the media.”
It is easy to imagine that in the 18 months before the freeze order, the Ampatuans were able to withdraw a lot from their loot.
“Twenty-eight Ampatuans are among the accused in the Maguindanao Massacre. The outcome of the trial is crucial to the Philippine press and media: Unless credibly concluded, it will encourage further killings by demonstrating that the culture of impunity that has encouraged the killing of political activists, environmental advocates, members of the clergy, human rights workers, journalists and others who have antagonized local power groups, criminal syndicates and state security forces will continue,” NUJP and FFFJ said.
Lawyer Harry Roque said he is filing next week a petition to set aside P1 billion of the frozen money of the Ampatuans for the victims.