Advocacy Cases

Untitled, Ronald Ventura

Untitled, Ronald Ventura

CenterLaw represents quite a number of clients in cases and projects involving human rights violations in our effort to fight impunity. Psycho-social support, when necessary, is also made available to CenterLaw’s clients. All these efforts are accompanied by a strategic dissemination campaign that publicizes the work our organization has done.

  1. Massacre at Ampatuan Town, Maguindanao Province

On November 23, 2009, a convoy mostly of women and journalists was on its way to file gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu’s certificate of candidacy in the June 2010 election when the convoy was stopped, diverted, and the people gunned down. It now appears that some of the women were even raped before the massacre, as the proceedings in court have shown. Fifty-eight (58) victims died in what is now known as the Ampatuan or Maguindanao Massacre. Some accounts say 57 victims, however, there are 58 victims. The body of Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay of Midland Review and father of Centerlaw client Ma. Reynafe Momay-Castillo is yet to be recovered or identified.

Centerlaw represents the heirs of 15 victims of the massacre; 13 of them were journalists who accompanied the convoy for media coverage. Since the beginning, the Center has taken a very active role in the investigation, prosecution, and filing of other legal remedies against the perpetrators of the massacre.

  1. Criminal Case

Centerlaw has entered its appearance through it lawyers acting as private prosecutors. Government prosecutors lead the criminal prosecution of the case but private prosecutors, like CenterLaw lawyers, are allowed to participate in the case because they can primarily support the civil aspect of the case (damages recovery for the victims’ families) and secondarily support the public prosecutors in the criminal prosecution.

Currently, the court is still hearing Andal Ampatuan, Jr.’s petition for bail. While trial is proceeding against Andal Ampatuan, Jr., Andal Sr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, among others still have pending petitions for review of the finding of probable cause against them in the Court of Appeals; as such, they have not even been arraigned. In fact, of the 196 accused, fewer than 60 have been arraigned, and quite a number remain at large.

Nonetheless, trial has proceeded against some of the accused, principally, against Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr.  Since August 2010, the magistrate hearing the case, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, has been holding marathon hearings of as much as two whole days per week.

Centerlaw’s clients have been present in almost all of the hearings by the court.

  1. Administrative Proceeding Against Police Officers

In March last year, Centerlaw, representing its clients in the Maguindanao Massacre, filed an administrative complaint against 62 police officers who allegedly took part in the massacre.

In coordination with the National Police Commission, Centerlaw actively participated as prosecutor in the administrative proceedings by helping present a number of witnesses, among whom are:

  1. Police Inspector Michael Joy Macaraeg, deputy director of the 1508thPolice Mobile Group, who  testified that he, along with 15 fellow officers were detailed to man a checkpoint on the eve of the massacre.
  2. Ma. Cipriana Gatchalian, wife of the late Santos Gatchalian of the Metro Gazette of Davao City and Editha Tiamzon, wife of Daniel Tiamzon of UNTV are represented by Centerlaw. They testified that they were the ones who caused the complaint to be filed. They also testified regarding threats they’ve received and their personal situation after the massacre.
  3. Joseph Jubelag is a journalist who was supposed to join the convoy as well but who backed out at the last minute because of security concerns.
  4. Anti-Money Laundering Case

Lakmudin Saliao’s testimony in court brought to light a plan by the Ampatuans to bribe their way out of court. Centerlaw filed a request with the Anti-Money Laundering Board to investigate and if necessary prosecute the allegations of bribery made by Saliao against Andal, Sr., Andal, Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan, Jesus Dureza, and lawyers Cynthia Sayadi and Philip Pantojan.

  1. Disbarment Cases  against  Ampatuan Lawyers

Centerlaw filed disbarment cases against lawyers Philip Pantojan and Cynthia Sayadi based on Salia’s testimony that they were the ones who schemed to spirit the clan patriarch out of arrest by faking his illness so that he could be admitted to a hospital.

Such acts are in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, the code of conduct of lawyers. For violations of this code, lawyers may be admonished, reprimanded, suspended or even disbarred.

  1. Plunder Case Against The Ampatuans

Centerlaw’s clients have asked the state to look into the assets of the Ampatuans, and should it be proven that these were ill-gotten, the same be forfeited in favor of the state, in accordance with the forfeiture law, aside from any other criminal liability that may be established.

Based on an investigative report by Carolyn Arguillas (, the Ampatuans have amassed assets that are clearly disproportionate to the salaries they receive as government officials. Even looking back at their Statements of Assets and Liabilities, it is clear that the Ampatuans gained these assets when they were already elected officials.

Plunder is defined in the Philippines as “…any public officer who, by himself or in connivance with members of his family, relatives by affinity or consanguinity, business associates, subordinates or other persons, amasses, accumulates or acquires ill-gotten wealth through a combination or series of overt criminal … in the aggregate amount or total value of at least Fifty million pesos (P50,000,000.00)…”

  1. Murder Case Against Staff Sergeant Andrada

Centerlaw, representing its clients, has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice to include Army Staff Sergeant Joselito Andrada in the Criminal Proceedings. The complaint is based on the testimony of Police Officer 1 Rainier Ebus that “Master Andrada” is part of Andal Jr.’s entourage. Andrada has been in the custody of the Army since January 2010 and administrative charges were filed against him for lying about his whereabouts on November 23, 2009.

  1. Compensation for  Victims’ Families

Centerlaw has been working to obtain government compensation on behalf of the massacre victims. Recently, it arranged for a meeting between its clients and President Benigno Aquino III.  But the President, while expressing sympathy with their cause, said government cannot grant compensation because it is cash-strapped. He did however promise to support in what way he can. Recently, he has provided a security detail for when the victim’s relatives are in Manila to attend hearing.

  1. Disbarment Against Former  Justice Secretary

The disbarment complaint against former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra has been forwarded by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has not yet acted on the matter.

  1. Petition to Declare Proclamation 1959 Unconstitutional

Centerlaw’s Petition to declare Proclamation 1959 (Declaration of Martial Law in Maguindanao) unconstitutional likewise remains pending with the Supreme Court.

  1. Graft Complaints against General Cayton and Colonel Geslani

Centerlaw’s clients have filed complaints for graft against Major General Cayton and Colonel Geslani for refusing to provide security to the convoy.

  1. Witness Protection

Sadly, the first witness that Centerlaw sought to protect was murdered. Suwaib Upham, one of the gunmen in the gruesome Maguindanao Massacre was shot dead last June 14 2010. He was in the custody of Centerlaw earlier in the year and was seeking admission into the country’s witness protection program. When it became apparent that he would not be admitted into the program under the former administration, Upham returned to Maguindanao and sought refuge with his relatives there. This was the hope that the next president would be much more responsive and that the new Secretary of Justice would facilitate his application to the program. Just four days after the presidential elections, Upham was gunned down.

  1. Psycho-Social Therapy

Consistent with the concept of Restorative Justice, Centerlaw has made sure that a trained therapist is always available to our clients, especially during the hearings . Centerlaw has been working closely with Dr. June Pagaduan – Lopez, an expert in trauma counseling and the Porta Coeli Center (for pastoral counseling and psycho-trauma management).  This is a group of trained experts specializing in psycho-trauma management.

Centerlaw appreciates the offers made by other groups to provide therapy to its clients.


Non-Ampatuan Related Cases

  1. Murder of Journalist and Environment Advocate Gerry Ortega case

Doctor Gerry Ortega, a journalist in based in Palawan and an environmental activist, has been collaborating with Centerlaw in filing a case seeking to invalidate the sharing agreement for the proceeds of the Malampaya natural gas deposits. ‘Doc Gerry’ also provided Centerlaw a Commission on Audit Report which details how Palawan’s local government officials have misused the local government’s share of the profit sharing agreement. . He was shot at close range on 24 January 2011.

CenterLaw is among the lawyers helping his family in the criminal prosecution of the suspects.

  1. Centerlaw also represents the journalists Ninez Cacho Olivares, Jun Briones and Ben Serrano in various libel cases.  Olivares is a well-known editor, columnist and publisher of a broadsheet. Briones spent five years in jail after losing the libel case against him. Serrano is a correspondent of the Philippine Star based in Butuan.


Public Information and Dissemination Activities

  1. CICIG: The Guatamalan Experience in Combating Impunity

UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the Honorable Frank La Rue, had a public lecture on 22 November 2010 at the University of the Philippines College of Law. He shared how Guatemala, through the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), was able to eradicate impunity and strengthen the justice system.

The occasion also allowed La Rue to have an informal dialog with some heirs of the victims of the Massacre, as well as some Comfort Women from World War 2. Centerlaw represents the women in a case before the Supreme Court, Vinuya v. Executive Secretary.

  1. Dissemination on Witness Protection

CenterLaw organized a dissemination activity that addressed the state of the Witness Protection Program of the Country in Manila on June 27, 2010. While the main issue at hand was the non-admission of Upham to the Witness Protection Program, the family of murdered Philippine Navy Ensign Philip Pestano and whistleblower Jun Lozada also spoke during the forum. About 60 participants, mostly from the media, attended the activity.