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The Daily Tribune

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Key witness in massacre trial murdered By Michaela P. del Callar 06/25/2010

Friday, June 25, 2010

Key witness in massacre trial murdered

By Michaela P. del Callar

First came the recantations of witnesses to the Maguindanao massacre. Now a key witness has been killed.
The witness, Suwaib Upham, known as “Jesse” regarded by the private prosecutor as a key witness in the trial of a powerful Muslim clan accused of orchestrating the worst political massacre in the country, was shot dead, a private prosecutor said yesterday.

Upham claimed to have taken part in the November killings of 57 persons in a crime allegedly planned by his former employers, the Ampatuan clan.

“He was supposed to be one of our strongest witnesses,” Harry Roque, a lawyer representing the families of 14 media victims, told Agence France Presse. “He saw, and participated in, the killings and could have directly named in court those involved.”

Roque warned that Upham’s killing, which he was told occurred last week in the southern province of Maguindanao, could potentially weaken the case against the Ampatuan family.

US-based Human Rights Watch also said the killing raised doubts about the government’s resolve in seeing justice done in the case.

“Massacre witnesses are dying while the government sits on its hands,” the group’s Asia director Elaine Pearson said in a statement. “This sends the worst possible message to other witnesses thinking of coming forward.”

The New York-based human rights watchdog yesterday challenged President-elect Benigno Aquino III, who takes office next week, to live up to his promise of justice for the massacre victims by taking urgent measures to protect witnesses.

Human Rights Watch said the Aquino administration should provide sufficient funding to ensure adequate protection for witnesses and their families, and urged the government to promptly investigate acts of witness intimidation and killing and to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.

”We don’t want to hear the government say a few months down the road that it is dropping charges because there is no eyewitness testimony,” Pearson said. “Aquino should make witness protection a priority to fulfill his promise of justice for the massacre victims.”

Security forces and the Justice Department should also take the measures needed to protect witnesses’ physical safety, including relocation where necessary, and to ensure that witnesses and their families are afforded appropriate housing, Pearson said.

HRW also called on the National Bureau of Investigation to conduct prompt investigation on the latest killing of Upham, stressing that the Philippine government must act swiftly to protect witnesses and their families.

But DoJ Secretary Alberto Agra laid the blame on Roque , saying that Roque “never respected the authority of the public prosecutors...who have control over private prosecutors and not the other way around,” Agra said.
“He (Roque) never brought ‘Jesse’ for interview and evaluation before the prosecutors,” Agra said.

“How can that person (Uphami) be placed under the witness protection program? Roque even represents the victims and one of the killers,” Agra said.... MORE

SourceThe Daily Tribune

URL: http://www.tribuneonline.org/headlines/20100625hed1.html


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