Zaldy Ampatuan pleads not guilty

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Zaldy Ampatuan pleaded not guilty Wednesday, December 12, at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig, before a court trying him for his alleged involvement in the gruesome Maguindanao massacre 3 years ago.

The former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao initially refused to enter a plea, saying he wanted his lawyer to do it for him. But Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 rejected this, prompting Ampatuan to eventually say "not guilty."

He was fidgeting and chatting with his guards all throughout the proceedings. The arraignment, which began at 9:30 am, was over in 20 minutes.

The court at the camp in Taguig opened at around 9:15 am. It was packed with relatives of the victims, soldiers and policemen. The court is an extension of the Quezon City RTC; the Ampatuans are detained there.

Families of the victims of the massacre started gathering at the camp early morning to witness the long-postponed arraignment. Maguindanao Gov Esmael Mangudadatu, whose wife and other relatives were killed in the massacre, was also present.

The Supreme Court on November 14 dismissed with finality Ampatuan's appeal for him to be removed from the list 196 accused.

The Ampatuan trial is on its third year. Out of the 196 accused in the massacre, 103 have been arrested and 82 arraigned, including Zaldy Ampatuan.

AMPATUANS BEHIND BARS. The alleged masterminds of the Maguindanao massacre have been held in this detention facility since their arrest in late 2009. Photo by Rupert Ambil

AMPATUANS BEHIND BARS. The alleged masterminds of the Maguindanao massacre have been held in this detention facility since their arrest in late 2009.

Photo by Rupert Ambil