MANILA - Government inaction, the overt hostility shown by President Benigno Aquino III towards the press, and acts of political expediency continue to shore up a culture of impunity in the Philippines, journalists and rights advocates say.
Media groups and allied organizations will commemorate on Friday the Nov. 23 massacre of 58 persons, including 32 journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. The date of the massacre was chosen as the annual international day to stop impunity. In the Philippines, protesters will march from the Welcome circle, at Manila’s border with Quezon City, to Mendiola, just off Malacañang. They will carry 154 mock coffins, representing journalists killed in the country since the ouster of dictatorship in 1986.
Aside from media killings, journalists will highlight the government’s failure to pass a law on Freedom of Information, the draconian Cybercrime Law, and the President’s sudden endorsement of a Right of Reply initiative in Congress.
News organizations have also published reports showing how Mr. Aquino’s ruling party and the opposition coalition have “embraced” scores of Ampatuan clan members for the May 2013 elections.
Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), said nine Ampatuan clan members are running under Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party. More than 30 other Ampatuans are running under Vice President Jejomar Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). A total of 72 Ampatuan clan members are running for office in 2013.
Danton Remoto of TV5 and the Ladlad party-list group said the warm welcome for the Ampatuans is because “they are a voting machine.”
Ninety-three suspects, including some members of the powerful family, remain at large three years after the massacre. Rowena Carranza-Paraan, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), says of the eight Ampatuans in jail, only two have been arraigned.
But from once a week, the court hearings are now held four times a week: Monday for motions, Tuesday for receipt of evidence for the civil aspect, and Wednesday and Thursday for presentation of prosecution evidence-in-chief as well as evidence in opposition to bail. To date, 110 witnesses have been presented by the prosecution. These include more than 40 private complainants
Courtesy of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
An NUJP graphics says the defense has filed 540 motions, stalling case proceedings, a finding echoed by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility. In its report on the thousandth-day commemoration of the massacre, CMFR said 56 suspects, including the Ampatuan patriarch and his sons, have filed separate petitions for bail.
“Several of those who have filed petitions for bail have not been arraigned. These include Sajid Islam, Anwar Sr and Akmad “Tato”, all members of the Ampatuan clan. Only Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr and Andal Ampatuan Sr, who have filed petitions for bail, have been arraigned,” CMFR said.
Melanie Pinlac of CMFR also notes efforts by the Ampatuans to stop the testimony of around 30 witnesses. As the case winds slowly through the justice system, the families of the victims find themselves under threat. Prospective witnesses have been killed. A wife of a victim was forced to flee abroad and other wives have sought shelter with various organizations.
Courtesy of National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Courtesy of National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
The Supreme Court under former chief justice Renato Corona allowed for live coverage of the massacre trial under conditions aimed at enforcing security and calm of proceedings and preventing manipulation of public opinion.
The Court, under new Chief Justice Sereno, however, overturned that decision and limited live streaming only to the audience who would gather at appointed courts. It also struck out provisions on recording of trial proceedings for reportage.
The Philippine Press Institute called the Sereno court’s decision “an outrage”, which has “erased” what little gain made, if at all, toward justice. The organization believes that live coverage would help alleviate fear of the powerful warlords in a country when only ten of more than a hundred cases have led to convictions at the lower courts.
Former UP College of Mass Communications Dean Luis Teodoro, a columnist, said the incumbent administration has done little more than lip service to end the rule of the country’s warlords.
He said none of the five things promised by Malacañang and the Justice Department to help the campaign against impunity have been fulfilled. Among these include strengthening of the witness protection program. The government, he charged, has left it to civil society to find solutions.
“The justice system remains very weak. At local levels, you find collusion between state security forces and local executives,” Teodoro said. He cited a CMPR map showing areas with some 100 warlords. “In these areas, state actors, like the police, the military and elected officials are among the suspects.”
Mangahas also said a full third of the cases of media killings show that the victims’ last reports were about abuses of local officials. The PCIJ is part of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), a regional press freedom watchdog and network of independent, national media organizations.
A new SEAPA report names the Philippines as the deadliest place in the region for journalists, accounting for 36 of the 100 cases of impunity in the first 10 months of 2012. “SEAPA logged 13 killings in all in 2012. The Philippines accounted for two-thirds or nine cases,” the report states.
Its list of 36 impunity cases includes nine murders, 17 cases of threats, and 10 cases of attacks. “All the cases recorded in the Philippines involved ‘impunity through violence’ mostly against journalists, and two activists (including one witness to a media murder case).”
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