Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ampatuan massacre victims' kin seek warden's relief

Relatives of the slain victims of the Maguindanao massacre have sought the immediate relief of the warden of the jail facility in Taguig City where the murder suspects are detained.
Private prosecutor Nena Santos, who represents families of 26 of the 57 massacre victims, on Thursday accused Senior Inspector Edgard Bernardino Camus of being "biased against the complainants" in implementing security procedures inside the Quezon City Jail Annex inside Camp Bagong Diwa.
In particular, Santos criticized Camus for not designating a secure holding area for witnesses awaiting their turn to take the stand during proceedings.
In one instance, according to Santos, Camus asked a group of witnesses, along with their armed escorts, to stay outside the jail facility while the trial was ongoing.
"Bakit niya pinalabas sila eh delikado iyon. Kung may mangayri sa kanila. Kinapkapan naman sila pati iyong escorts ah," Santos said.
Santos also raised security concerns about the accused Ampatuan clan members being allowed to use the door near the judge's chamber in entering and exiting the court room.
Santos claimed QC jail Annex personnel were "more strict" on them than on others.
The private prosecutor said she detailed all these observations and complaints in a letter sent to Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government last September 8.
Besides, Santos added that Camus - who replaced former warden Chief Inspector Glennford ValdepeƱas in late May - should already vacate his post because he has already been overstaying.
This was in light of the standing order of Bureau of Jail Management and Penology director Rosendo Dial on the regular reshuffle of personnel at the jail warden every three months.
Camus responds
In an interview at the sidelines of Thursday's hearing, Camus admitted he has nothing against Santos' request to have him replaced. However, Camus belied Santos' accusations about bias as untrue.
"Ang gusto ko kasi bago ako umalis dito at least may maiwan akong magandang alaala," Camus said. He said he would ensure a smooth transition when he leaves.
Camus said it has long been disallowed for witnesses and their armed escorts to get near the courtroom. This is meant to prevent inmates from possibly snatching the escorts' firearms and harming people attending the hearing.
"This has all been agreed upon in our meeting with the Department of Justice before. But the old prosecution panel was already replaced, so the new ones do not know about that agreement," Camus said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima installed new prosecutors to handle the high-profile case after observing that the old panel allegedly lacked the "zealousness and aggressiveness" in pursuing the case.
Camus stressed that during his tenure as warden, he was able to further tighten the security measures for witnesses being brought in court by converting one of the rooms at the jail facility into an air-conditioned witness holding area. The other half of the room is now an infirmary.
Camus also took pride on the newly-installed biometric system to go with the electronic identification system - both aimed at preventing inmates from disguising themselves then escaping, and at the same time, monitoring people going in and out of the facility.
Under the biometric system - which was set up through a P30,000 loan by the BJMP - inmates, jail officials, and visitors – including visiting family members, lawyers, and even the media – will have to register into a computer database all their basic information, photograph, and fingerprints.
These were all on top of the upgrade of the eight closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed all over the jail facility.
He also denied being too hard on the prosecution, saying he was even responsible for the improvements of several amenities inside the facility for the convenience of both camps.
A "computer room" at the entrance has been set up where a duty officer will oversee all items deposited by lawyers and other visitors. A common comfort room has already been expanded and split to two - for men and women - and has been fully furnished

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