01/05/2010, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Maguindanao massacre: main defendant proclaims his innocence

by Santosh Digal
The first hearing in the trial of Andal Amputuan Jr ended today in Quezon City. He is charged with the murder of 41 of the 57 people killed on 23 November. The presiding judge rejects application for bail made by the defendant's attorneys. The next hearing is scheduled for 13 January. The Church calls on Filipinos to back initiatives that help defeat the country's culture of impunity.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Andal Ampatuan Jr pleaded not guilty in the first hearing of his trial in Quezon City (Manila) today. He is the main defendant for the massacre of 57 people on 23 November in Maguindao. Through his attorneys, he said he was not responsible for the murder of 41 of the 57 members of the Ishmael “Toto” Mangudadatu clan. The judge rejected his application for release on bail after hearing 12 witnesses. Ampatuan Jr will remain in jail until the next hearing on 13 January.

According to the judge, the former governor of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Andal Ampatuan Sr was the main instigator of the crime. He is Andal Amputan Jr's father and Mangudadatu's main rival in this year's gubernatorial race.

In early December, police arrested Ampatuan Sr and other members of his clan on charges of attempted rebellion. The operation took place after martial law was imposed on the region between 8 and 12 December. During that time, police and army uncovered some 200 murders blamed on the Ampatuan clan. They had never been reported to local authorities previously. The former governor and his supporters are currently awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is calling on all Filipinos to pray for the judges and for a quick trial.

In a statement, the Church “appreciates and admires the courage and calm determination of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, a Catholic and an alumna of the CUST, when she decided to accept the responsibility of presiding over the controversial case spawned by the infamous Maguindanao killing, despite the risk to her personal safety,” said Fr  Rolando de la Rosa, O.P., rector of Catholic University of Santo Tomas (CUST).

Ms La Reyes is a former CUST student. She accepted the case despite threats that forced her predecessor to turn it down.

The priest also urged the population to back all the initiatives that can lead to the defeat of the culture of impunity that prevails in the country.

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