Monday, January 04, 2010

Ampatuan Jr.'s trial in Camp Crame starts

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATE)- Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. arrived Tuesday morning at the Philippine National Police (PNP) headquarters in Camp Crame on a bulletproof van as authorities brace for the first hearing on the multiple murder charges filed against him for the massacre of nearly 60 people in Maguindanao last November 23.

Live footage of ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG) showed the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) convoy leaving its main headquarters in Manila around 6:15 a.m.

The convoy, which included the bulletproof van of Ampatuan Jr., who was also wearing a bulletproof vest, arrived at Camp Crame in Quezon City around 6:30 a.m., 2 hours earlier than the scheduled hearing at 8:30 a.m.

A radio dzMM report said Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu, Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate and wife and brother of 3 of the massacre victims, arrived at Camp Crame around 8 a.m.

The report added that trial started after Ampatuan Jr. was escorted into the PNP's Police Non-Commissioned Officers' Clubhouse around 8:32 a.m.

Ampatuan Jr. is facing multiple murder charges for the massacre of 57 people in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao last November 23.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera told UKG that the first hearing would tackle the petition for bail filed by the lawyers of Ampatuan Jr. She said the petition forces the government's prosecution team to immediately produce evidence on the multiple murder charges.

"The judge would hear the petition for bail first before conducting the arraignment. The prosecutors would have to present evidence so that the judge will not grant the petition for bail," the justice secretary said.

Devanadera said they will also present statements from various witnesses who have implicated Ampatuan Jr. to the massacre. She said some witnesses placed Ampatuan Jr. at the crime scene in Barangay Saniag, Ampatuan town, where the 57 bodies of the massacre victims were exhumed from 2 mass graves.

She was confident that Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 would junk Ampatuan Jr.'s petition for bail after 2 hearings.

Meanwhile, security in and around the police camp was very tight despite police's assurance that there was no threat on Ampatuan Jr.'s life.

Chief Superintendent Gordon Descanzo, PNP Headquarters Support Group chief, said streets around the camp will be restricted while checkpoints will be set up at roads leading to the trial venue.

The Supreme Court has also banned the live coverage of the murder trial to avoid "mistrial" due to "trial by publicity."

SC spokesman Midas Marquez said only authorized media personnel will be allowed in the trial venue, and they will only have a photo opportunity with the prime suspect prior to the trial.

Once the trial starts, no cameras will be allowed and no one will be allowed to leave the venue except during recess.

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