De Lima urges massacre witnesses
    ‘Come out in the open, be covered by WPP’

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    CLARK FREEPORT – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima urged here yesterday potential witnesses in the Maguindanao massacre to “come out in the open” as a means for self-preservation, after another potential witness was reported to have been killed.

    In an interview during the regional convention of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines- Central Luzon (IBP-CL), De Lima said the safety of potential witnesses would remain at risk “unless we get and arrest the rest of the accused still at large, especially others (who are) principally accused.”

    “I urge potential witnesses to come out in the open and be covered by our Witness Protection Program,” she said.

    Earlier, the Maguindanao police said that one Alijol Ampatuan, was shot dead in Shariff Aguak last February.

    Alijol was reportedly the seventh among witnesses and potential witness to have been killed since the massacre.

    De Lima noted that Alijol was cited earlier by another slain witness, Esmael Enog, during the latter’s court testimony last year. Enog admitted driving gunmen to the site where 57 persons were massacred in Maguindanao on Nov. 23, 2009 with then Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. as among the major suspects.

    De Lima cited specifically threats from “those children, siblings or uncles of the Ampatuans,” noting that “a few more Ampatuans (named as massacre suspects) are still at large.”

    “Unless they have been arrested, they will continue to do that (pin down potential prosecution witnesses),” she said.

    She noted that Alijol was “among the potential witnesses who have not confirmed willingness to testify because of fear for their safety.”

    “We can’t compel them if they do not want to be covered by the Witness Protection Program (of the Department of Justice),” she noted.

    De Lima expressed fears for the safety of the potential witnesses. “The latest victim (Alijol) was merely mentioned by Enog in his testimony and he was killed,” she noted.

    The victim already testified in court last year that suspects in the Maguindanao massacre, including some members of the Ampatuan clan who have remained at large seem to be out to kill others in the ranks whom they fear could be prosecution witness.

    De Lima admitted delays in the Maguindanao massacre case, but noted that “we see direction.”

    She said, however, that the killings of witnesses have caused some alarm on the case.

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