Thursday, April 22, 2010

Agra's Disregard of Evidentiary Standards

DOJ Secretary Alberto Agra has found himself in the middle of a storm for dismissing the murder charges against two Ampatuan clan members in connection with the gruesome massacre of Mangudadatu supporters and journalists in Maguindanao. The besieged justice secretary reversed the preliminary investigation findings of his prosecutors, claiming there is not enough credible evidence to warrant the filing of murder charges against the two Ampatuans.

The prosecutors, however, who recommended the filing of the murder charges based their conclusion on the testimony of an unbiased eyewitness, as against the alibi foisted by the Ampatuans. Historically considered as a weak defense, the Ampatuans' alibi should have been left for consideration during the trial proper and not during the preliminary investigation, especially that there is an eyewitness to support the filing of charges.

It bears noting that during the preliminary investigation stage, what the investigating prosecutor needs to determine only is whether or not a crime has been committed, and if so whether or not the person being investigated is probably guilty thereof. "Probable cause" is the key phrase. As the name implies, the probability of guilt only is what needs to be determined, and not the certainty of guilt - a standard applied during the trial proper only.

There is no doubt that the massacre did occur. There is also evidence that the Ampatuans may have been involved, as testified to by the eyewitness who claims he knew first-hand of the Ampatuans' participation in the planning of the massacre. These are facts and circumstances which would engender a well-founded belief that a crime has been committed and that the Ampatuans are probably guilty of the crime charged. Under our rules of criminal procedure, this is sufficient for the prosecutor to indict the Ampatuans. Take note, the purpose of the investigation is not to find guilt but a cause for filing the charges. Accusation is not synonymous with guilt. The Ampatuans will still get their day in court to refute these charges, and that will be the time for them to scrutinize the truthfulness of the eyewitness testimony, question his motive, test the veracity of this statements or refute them with contradictory evidence, such as alibi.

It is therefore no wonder that even Agra's chief state prosecutor went public against his decision to drop the charges against the two Ampatuans. He clearly disregard the evidentiary requirement in preliminary investigation, by wrongly applying the much higher standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt that should only be made during the trial proper.

1 comment:

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