SC disallows live coverage of Maguindanao massacre trial

By Ina Reformina, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 12 2012 11:53 AM | Updated as of Nov 13 2012 01:21 AM

MANILA (UPDATED) - The Supreme Court (SC) has reversed its June 14, 2011 ruling that allowed the live media coverage of the Maguindanao massacre trial.

In a 7-page notice released on Monday, the high court partially granted the motion for reconsideration (MR) of accused Andal Ampatuan, Jr. who told the high court that a live broadcast coverage of the trial "deprives him of his rights to due process, equal protection, presumption of innocence, and to be shielded from degrading psychological punishment."

In its ruling, the court said the rights of the accused, still presumed innocent, should prevail over the freedom of the media and the right to public information. The high court pointed out that Ampatuan's constitutional rights such as right to due process of law, right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, right to an impartial and public trial and the requirement of the highest quantum of proof prompted the magistrates to take a second look at their 2011 decision.

"While this court recognizes the freedom of the press and the right to public information, which by the way are rights that belong to non-direct parties to the case, the rights of the direct parties should not be forgotten. In a clash among these competing interests and in terms of the values the Constitution recognizes, jurisprudence makes it clear that the balance should always be weighed in favour of the accused," the ruling read.

However, a real-time streaming of the trial will still be allowed outside of the court room in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, as well as in Maguindanao, Koronadal, South Cotabato, and General Santos City where the relatives of the accused and victims are based. The proceedings will also be taped for documentation purposes; the materials will be deposited in the National Museum and the Records Management and Archives Office.

In its ruling, the high court also stressed that the trial judge and the witnesses must also be protected.

"In this case that has achieved notoriety and sensational status, a greater degree of care is required to safeguard the constitutional rights of the accused. To be in the best position to weigh the conflicting testimonies of the witnesses, the judge must not be affected by any outside force or influence. Like any human being, however, a judge is not immune from the pervasive effects of media.

"A witness' behaviour and self consciousness before the camera in a high profile case such as this case might compromise the reliability of the fact-finding process which in turn could skew the judge's assessment of his or her credibility," the ruling read.

The voting on the MR was not stated in the notice. The SC Public Information Office (PIO) said it will try to secure the vote for the benefit of the public.

In an interview with private prosecutor Atty. Nena Santos on ANC, she said that the prosecution would accept the SC decision. What's important to them is that
the public--especially relatives of victims--are able to monitor the proceedings. She said the live streaming will serve that purpose.

Meantime, the Palace is hoping that the Supreme Court will "revisit" its latest decision not to allow the live coverage of the Maguindanao massacre trial. Lacierda says it is important for the public to know what is going on in the trial, noting though that no media outfit has covered the trial live since the SC allowed it.
"I hope that they can revisit their decision… that is the litmus test of the judiciary and it is important for us--both the public and media--to be able to know what's going on in the Maguindanao massacre trial," Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
"We would like to see (the trial done in) a more expeditious manner without sacrificing due process. On the other hand, I think the Supreme Court has already made substantial number of means to improve or to hasten the process," he said.

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima disagrees with the ruling of the SC reversing its earlier decision that allowed the live media broadcast of the Maguindanao massacre trial.

De Lima said the reversal was "not a good move." She will confer with state prosecutors handling the trial as to what legal remedies may be availed of for a reinstatement of the June 14, 2011 earlier ruling that granted the live broadcast.

"Para sa akin, hindi maganda yun, with due respect to the Supreme Court... Remember, this is the trial of the century. I personally feel that it's not a good move, not a good development," De Lima said.

She noted that the live broadcast of the proceedings will also be a way of ensuring that the trial remains in the consciousness of the public.

On Nov. 23, 2009, 58 people were brutally killed in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. The victims were mostly journalists and the wife and female relatives of then gubernatorial aspirant Esmael "Toto" Mangudadatu, whose convoy was bound to file Mangudadatu's certificate of candidacy with the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Ampatuan and other members of the political clan were charged for the massacre, along with their supporters.  -- with reports from Willard Cheng ABS-CBN News and ANC