A Philippine court on Tuesday froze USD $23 million worth of assets owned by the Ampatuan family, who are accused of ordering the killing of 57 people. The Philippines Department of Justice (PDOJ) [official website] had implicated Andal Ampatuan Sr., the leader of a Muslim clan in the Philippines' semi-autonomous southern province of Maguindanao, and several of his followers in the November 2009 slayings [press release] of campaign workers, journalists and supporters of family political rival Esmael Mangudadatu. The Philippine Court of Appeals [official website] ordered [BBC report] that Ampatuan family bank account funds, businesses and property be frozen while investigators determine how the Ampatuans accumulated the assets. The Anti-Money Laundering Council [official website] now has 20 days to gather evidence suggesting that some of the assets were accrued illegally. Prosecutors were pleased with the decision but expressed discontent that the court waited over a year to freeze the assets.
In March, a Quezon City court dismissed rebellion charges [JURIST report] against 24 people, including Ampatuan Sr. Days earlier, a court issued arrest warrants [JURIST report] for 189 suspects. The PDOJ had already charged 197 people with murder [JURIST report] in connection with the November 2009 killings. In December 2009, the PDOJ began the trial [JURIST report] of more than 600 people charged with rebellion for allegedly interfering with government operations following the killings. Several of Amapuan Sr.'s sons, including Andal Ampatuan Jr., the mayor of the southern Philippine town of Datu Unsay, have also been charged. Amapuan Jr. has pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to 41 counts of murder. The Ampatuans and several of their followers are alleged to have intercepted Mangudadatu's convoy en route to declare his candidacy for governor at a regional election office, ultimately forcing his convoy to a remote hilltop where the Ampatuans' group killed and buried them. Following the killings, former Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo [BBC profile] imposed martial law [JURIST report] and suspended habeas corpus in Maguindanao. She later lifted the conditions, following international pressure and domestic legal challenges [JURIST reports].