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No to Zaldy Ampatuan as state witness - Palace

MANILA, Philippines - Whatever hope Zaldy Ampatuan has to turn state witness against his clan in the Maguindanao massacre is quickly dashed as President Benigno Aquino III assured the families of the victims that this will not happen.

The president met with the relatives of the massacre victims this afternoon.

In the post-meeting media briefing, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda reiterated the government's assurance that all the victims shall get justice they deserve, adding that President Aquino has already decided that there is no basis for turning Zaldy from a principal accused into a state witness.

There is no truth to allegations that the government is entertaining talks to turn former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan into a state witness, said Lacierda.

Such rumor that circulated the past days caused apprehension among the relatives of the victims and prompted them to go to Malacanang to meet with the President to seek clarification on the issue.

After meeting with the President, Maguindanao Governor Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu whose wife and relatives were among those murdered said that the President assured him that there are no talks between the Palace and the camp of Zaldy who consistently denies participation in the crime.

When reminded that Zaldy may still qualify as a state witness if he later admits to his participation in the massacre, Mangudadatu calmly replied that Zaldy's possible confession shall still be subject to appreciation by the court and this shall not be smooth for Zaldy.

Private prosecutor Nena Santos said that the victims were able to air their concern to the President, emphasizing that they do not need the testimonies of Zaldy to win the case.

Meantime, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said that they are currently evaluating Zaldy's recent revelations on other cases, including the plunder and anti-money laundering complaints filed against him.

"Ang usapin ngayon ay hindi sa pagiging state witness niya," De Lima said, adding that there are no negotiations going on and they are “very careful” in handling the case.

Earlier in a separate forum, lawyer Harry Roque strongly stressed that the principal suspects in a massacre should never be allowed access to the President and even demanded the resignation of Lacierda who he suspected was acting as a go-between for the camp of Zaldy. Lacierda denied this. Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo had also denied being a facilitator of a possible deal with Zaldy.

A spokesman said that Zaldy is not applying to become a state witness because he has no participation in the crime, a requirement to qualify as a state witness. (From, Vox Bikol)