By Ali G. Macabalang
COTABATO CITY—Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has assured the public that suspects in the Nov. 23, 2009 massacre of 58 people in Ampatuan, Maguindanao, especially the main accused, will be convicted before the end of the Aquino administration.
“I remain confident that before the end of the President’s term, there will be a few convictions,” De Lima said during a recent television interview.
De Lima, who was reportedly set to resign next week to file her candidacy for senator under the ruling Liberal Party, was referring to principal suspects Andal “Datu Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Zaldy, a former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
She said the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 22 is expected to come out with a conviction before June 30, 2016 when President Benigno Aquino III steps down.
The two Ampatuans are sons of former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., also a principal suspect. The elder Ampatuan died of liver cancer while on detention last July 17.
But the camp of Ampatuan, through lawyers from the Heffron Esguerra Dy De Jesus & Chico Law Offices, deplored De Lima’s pronouncement, describing in a statement her “anticipated conviction” as a conduct unbecoming.
Media workers based here, mostly sympathetic to 32 colleagues slain in the massacre, also aired negative reactions to De Lima’s pronouncement, the latest in a string of assurances for years.
“Secretary De Lima has a penchant for assuring us of conviction in the massacre case trial since Day One. If conviction can be obtained, why time it only on the last days in office of President Aquino?” a broadcast reporter asked.