MANILA — Justice Secretary Leila M. De Lima on Wednesday justified the Department of Justice’ action of placing former Salibo, Maguindanao Mayor Akmad Ampatuan under the coverage of the Witness Protection Program (WPP), saying the former mayor is a key witness to the second wave of complaints in the Maguindanao massacre.
The massacre claimed the lives of 58 civilians, including 15 women and 32 media practitioners in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009.
Akmad was recently arrested in Makati City by virtue of an arrest warrant for murder and arson issued by the Cotabato City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
The WPP took him into custody and refused to hand him over to the arresting officers.
De Lima said that after proper representations were made with the arresting officers, as well as the trial court, informing them of his WPP status.
She said that Akmad’s testimony is vital to the case, especially that he is a relative of several of the primary accused, namely former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan, Sr., former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal, Jr., and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan.
The DOJ Chief said that Akmad has identified other several “powerful personalities” as co-conspirators in the commission of the crime.
“He’s (Akmad) part of the circle, he’s an insider, so he knows a lot about the Ampatuans and he knows a lot about what happened during that massacre. Key witness namin siya (He is our key witness),” De Lima said.
De Lima said that Akmad’s life was in danger because of his testimony.
She said that Akmad had already been ambushed before.
De Lima added that another key witness in the massacre case also survived an ambush attempt.
The DOJ awaits the Cotabato City RTC’s action on the former’s motion to retain custody of Akmad, and remains hopeful that the court will grant the plea.
De Lima said that under the WPP Law, there is no coverage prohibition on individuals facing other charges in court.
The DOJ Chief made the pronouncement amid a plea made by the family of slain jail warden Al-Khail Mamalangkay for the DOJ to release Akmad from the WPP.
Mamalangkay was allegedly shot to death by Akmad in 1998.