Acting Justice Sec. Agra should Resign Now!
I thought we have learned the bitter, painful lesson of traditional politics a few months ago when a tragic news about the brutal and ruthless
murder and mutilation of 57 people, most of whom were journalists, shook this nation.
Many of us were outraged by the bloody handiwork of evil that is the worst election-related violence in the country. However, it seems that some corrupt, wicked people in high places have been relying on our collective forgiveness and forgetfulness that they recently brazenly displayed an utter disregard of justice.
I stated on March 26, 2009, a few days after the mass murder took place, the following:
“Perhaps it would take a monstrous natural disaster or a grotesque manmade carnage to awaken a whole nation. The unforgettable super typhoon Ondoy that submerged the whole of Metro Manila and claimed the lives of hundreds of people brought a handful of lessons to Filipinos. On the other hand, a monstrous massacre that took the lives of 64 innocent people, mostly women and journalists, awakened the whole Filipino nation to a bitter reality—absolute political power kills absolutely.”
Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra, a Macapagal-Arroyo appointee, disproved everybody’s expectation that the massacre of 57 innocent people was big and horrible enough to dissuade any scheming political figure from perverting justice.
Only a few weeks following his appointment on March 3, Agra, an Ateneo law graduate, exonerated Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Zaldy “Puti” Ampatuan and his cousin, Mayon Akmad “Tato” Ampatuan Sr., of Mamasapano, Maguindanao, from the murder case, citing alibi and lack of evidentiary proof.
Agra’s controversial resolution was released on April 16, the very same day Zaldy, his brothers Anwar and Sajid and brother-in-law Akmad, were transported to Davao City to pick up detained patriarch, Datu Andal, who was scheduled to be transferred to Camp Bagong Diwa by virtue of an order issued by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.
According to an ABS-CBN report, Agra is an influential figure in the Arroyo regime, as he acts as the concurrent Solicitor General, a post given to him on January 8, 2010, aside from his position in the Justice department. He also holds a post on an interim basis in the eight-man Judicial Bar Council, a very powerful body that examines nominees to the courts.
So how did Agra come to power? First he defended Mrs. Arroyo against an impeachment attempt by members of Congress in 2006. In March 2007, Mrs. Arroyo appointed Agra head of the Office of the Government Corporate Counsel (OGCC), a government agency that represents government-owned and controlled corporations in legal proceedings. He was also named head of the Metropolitan and Sewerage System (MWSS) Regulatory Office, a post he gave up in June 2008 due to conflict of interests.
However, several state prosecutors protested Agra’s exoneration of the two main accused in the infamous Maguindanao Massacre. One of those who assailed Agra’s order is assistant chief state prosecutor Ricard Fadullon, who argued that there was already a finding of probable cause against the two Ampatuans, hence Presiding Judge Solis Reyes should have the discretion to evaluate the evidence against the accused.
In a dzMM interview with broadcasters Ted Failon and Pinky Webb, Fadullon said:
“The strongest evidence is positive identification. Ang pinaka weak is alibi. Ang ebidensya po ng prosecution dito is that meron pong nakakita kay
ARMM governor doon po sa pagpulong nong Nov. 22. So hindi po namin sinasabi na wala po sya nung November 23 because, in fact, he was out of Maguindanao at that time. Ang sinasabi po namin is hindi kailangan na ang lahat ay mag-take part sa act ng pag commit ng crime. Ang pingatataka namin is yung sinasabi nila na yung positive identification is now the weakest because it was overturned by alibi. Probable cause lang ang pwede mag indict sa isang tao. Ang nangyari sa resolution na ito, parang sinasabi na kulang ang ebidensya for him to be convicted. That is not for us to say, that is for the court to say.”
However, Agra defended his order, saying conspiracy should first be established to show that there is reasonable doubt to charge the two Ampatuans with multiple murder.
Agra said in an ANC Dateline Philipines interview on April 19:
“I never looked beyond reasonable doubt. My duty is to find whether there is probable cause or if there is none. Insofar as the conspiracy is concerned, this must be established. This must be shown. This cannot be inferred. This cannot be premised on mere relationship as I have pointed out in my resolution. Alibi must be weighed, and this is my own perception of the records and the evidence before me. I have made no pronouncements. I am not convicting or accusing anyone.”
Agra’s defense of his controversial order, however, did not stop the country’s top prosecutors from publicly defying him. It was chief state prosecutor Claro Arellano who led the protest against their superior’s resolution.
Here’s Arellano’s statement:
“We pray and hope that despite difficulties and setbacks, justice will ultimately be served to the victims of this tragedy. It is along this line that we earnestly and respectfully request Acting Secretary Agra to revisit this resolution.
“Otherwise, we dishonor the primary reason for which our institution exists and its very name: the Department of Justice.
“As professional career prosecutors, it pains us to publicly disagree with the resolution of the Secretary of Justice. We recognize the appellate jurisdiction of the Secretary and his authority over us.
“But we being in the frontline still believe with due respect that there is probable cause to indict the two accused.
“It is a rule in evidence that positive identification by a witness prevails over a negative assertion. Interestingly and ironically, while Secretary Agra basically implies that witness Kenny Dalandag is very credible as to his positive identification of the other accused during the planning of the murders, he is not at all credible when he identified Zaldy Ampatuan.
“The resolution basically redefined the plain and ordinary meaning of “probable cause.
“This is not the role of the DoJ in a preliminary investigation or in a petition for review. This is the sole function of the courts. Our task is merely to determine probable cause.”
The main question is: Did Agra really fail to see probable cause—or he found probable cost instead?