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Ampatuan lawyers withdraw from Maguindanao massacre case

After almost five years of handling one of the Philippines' sensational cases, defense lawyers for a number of accused in the Maguindanao massacre trial have decided to call it quits.
In separate manifestations to the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, members of the defense team led by Sigfrid Fortun have withdrawn as lawyers for principal suspects, clan patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr., his son Andal Jr., and 22 other accused.
"The undersigned counsel respectfully withdraws its appearance for accused Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Andal Ampatuan Jr. It is respectfully requested that all pleadings, orders, notices, and other process be furnished said accused at their place of detention at Quezon City Jail Annex, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, Camp Bagong Diwa Complex, Taguig City," said Fortun's camp in a withdrawal of appearance dated June 30.

The development came amid accusations of bribery involving some of the prosecutors in the case.

A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism blog quoted Fortun as citing a potential conflict of interest among his clients as his reason for withdrawing from the massacre case.  

“I was advised of a situation where one of them would take a position contrary to the position of others and since I represent all of them, I am now conflicted," Fortun was quoted as saying.
Also withdrawing were legal counsels for accused Sajid Islam Ampatuan, Datu Anwar Ampatuan, Datu Akmad Ampatuan Sr, Datu Anwar Ampatuan Jr, Datu Sajid Anwar Ampatuan, Nasser Esmail, Nicomedes Amad Tolentino, Bulatukan Omar Kayansang, Datutulon Malaguial Esmael, and Datukan Malang Salibo.
They are represented by lawyer Andres Manuel, who filed his withdrawal of appearance on August 1.
Lawyers for the following accused also withdrew: Moktar Daud, Mohades Ampatuan, Misuari Ampatuan, Macton Bilungan, Tato Sampogao (wrongly charged as Salipaf Tampogaoz), Taya Bangkulat, Salik Bangkulat, Ibrahim Kamal Yatak (wrongly charged as Thong Guiamano), Norman Tatak, Abedin Alamada, Morales Sisay Amilol, and Talembo Kahar Abdulrahman (wrongly charged as Tammy Talembo).
They are represented by the team led by lawyer Paris Real, who withdrew as counsel in a manifestation dated August 5.

No reasons were cited for the lawyers' withdrawal from the case.

Fortun in May withdrew from representing another principal suspect, former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Rizaldy Ampatuan.  Zaldy Ampatuan had indicated his willingness to testify in the case, insisting an alibi that he was in Davao and Manila, and not Maguindanao, before and on the day of the massacre on November 23, 2009.
Further delay
Private prosecutor Harry Roque suspected that the defense lawyers withdrawal was part of the Ampatuan camp's dilatory tactics, especially after the prosecution earlier rested its case allowing the defense to present their own witnesses.
"Now that they failed to derail formal offer of evidence, they will delay because now they have no counsel," Roque told GMA News Online.
He added: "But we will remain steadfast in getting justice for the victims."
The withdrawal of the defense lawyers came at a time when private and public prosecutors in the case are engaged in a squabble over allegations of bribery in their handling of the murder case.
Prosecution witness Lakmodin Saliao, a long-time Ampatuan househelp, recently claimed that his former employer tasked him to hand over P50 million to their lawyer for distribution to the public prosecutors, P20 million of which allegedly went to Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, who has been the supervising DOJ official of the Maguindanao massacre case.
Private prosecutor Nena Santos, who represents Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, likewise claimed to have been offered bribe money from the camp of the accused. Santos said she rejected it and the money instead went to the public prosecutors.
Baraan and the rest of the public prosecutors have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Santos earlier questioned the public prosecutors' move to rest the case against several of the accused in the case, including Andal Jr.
Bribery allegations have long plagued the trial, with supposed Ampatuan emissaries allegedly dangling money to families of the victims and witnesses, but none of them have so far been proven. The Ampatuans have repeatedly denied paying off anyone.

See related: How allegations of bribes have figured during the Maguindanao massacre trial
Arrested, at large
More than 100 of the 196 suspects have already been arrested, while the rest remain at large almost five years after the killings.
Of those arrested, at least 104 have been arraigned and all pleaded not guilty to the multiple murder charges.
Among those arraigned are the eight prominent members of the Ampatuan clan, including Andal Sr., who is a former governor of Maguindanao and three sons, Andal Jr, Rizaldy, and Sajid.
Considered the worst single-day election-related violence in Philippine history, the Maguindanao massacre claimed the lives of 58 people, including 32 journalists, who were part of a convoy as Esmael Mangudadatu's representatives went to file his certificate of candidact as the Ampatuans' rival in the gubernatorial race for the 2010 elections.
They were said to have been stopped at a checkpoint at Sitio Masalay in Barangay Salman, Ampatuan town, and gunned down by armed men led by the Ampatuans.
Mangudadatu, who was not part of the convoy, won the 2010 gubernatorial race. He was re-elected in the recently concluded May 13 elections.
The victims include Mangudadatu's wife and two sisters.  — RSJ/KBK/NB, GMA News