Journalists Question Media Restrictions by RP of Maguindanao Massacre Trial
"Special Treatment is Being Accorded to Accused"
MANILA — Citing the public’s right to know and be informed, the spokesman of the newly-formed November 23 Movement, Carlos Conde, urged the court hearing the Manguindnao Murder trial and the Philippine National Police to remove restrictions on journalists and that live coverage be allowed. The group is a loose coalition of media organizations calling for justice to the victims of the massacre on Nov. 23, 2009; it led, along with the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), the protest action outside Camp Crame, the police headquarters in Manila, the nation's capital.
Conde said these court-imposed restrictions on the media covering the Ampatuan massacre trial are, for all practical purposes, a form of “special treatment” being accorded the main suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr.
Bulatlat News reported that the court presided by Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has disallowed live coverage of the Ampatuan trial. The Philippine National Police has also prohibited “ambush” interviews outside the court. Andal Jr. stands accused of masterminding what is now known as the worst single case of election-related violence in the country’s recent history, where 57 people, at least 30 of them journalists, were killed.
No cameras, laptops, mobile phones and even audio recorders are allowed inside the court room according to journalists. The number of journalists who can get inside the court room was also limited. These restrictions, Conde said, hamper how journalists perform their tasks.
“While we respect the view that a trial by publicity can be detrimental to the accused, we fail to see how that can happen in this case. The Ampatuan case is extremely important for the public, the media and the relatives of the victims. The media and the public — particularly those who live outside Metro Manila and who can only follow the proceedings through the media — need to know exactly what is going on inside the courtroom,” Conde said in a statement.
“As journalists, we need to get accurate information for the public. The role of the media is important in ensuring that there would be no whitewash,” said Ilang-ilang Quijano, a director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), at the rally.
Conde said restrictions in the Ampatuan trial are, “at best, unreasonable and, at worst, a violation of press freedom and the public’s right to know.” “At a time when the Philippine press is under assault like never before, these restrictions are the last thing we need,” he added.
The group said the ban on live coverage "deprives the family of the victims, most of whom are based in Mindanao, an opportunity to follow the proceedings."
Vijae Alquisola, national president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), criticized the “snail-paced” resolution of the case.
“It has been two months since the massacre happened and the children of the victims still cry for justice. They spent their Christmas and New Year without getting justice for their loved ones,” Alquisola said.
“We, campus journalists, join our colleagues in the mainstream media in calling for justice. Forgetting the Ampatuan massacre is allowing extrajudicial killings to continue. Forgetting is embracing the culture of impunity and the absence of justice,” Alquisola said during the protest.
Petition for Bail, Private Armies Hit
Groups under the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), in a show of solidarity to journalists, joined the protest Wednesday.
“We are holding this mass action to support the massacre victims in their opposition to the petition for bail of the principal accused. We agree with the prosecution that evidence is strong against Andal, Jr., ” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr.
Bayan also called on the Arroyo government to dismantle para-military groups such as the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and the Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVO).
Reyes slammed the Arroyo government for not revoking Executive Order 546 despite growing calls for its junking. Signed in July 2004, the order allows the arming of civilians to assist in the counter-insurgency operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Media Harassment Continues
Quijano, one of the editors of Pinoy Weekly, also deplored the continuing harassment against journalists. She cited the assassination attempt against Bacolod City-based journalist and former NUJP chairman Edgar Cadagat four days after the massacre and the refusal of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) to allow a camera man of GMA-7 network in Iloilo City from going near President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo at the Iloilo airport on January 12 because he was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the words “Stop killing journalists!”
Before the massacre, 104 Filipino journalists have already been murdered since 1986 with 67 killed since Arroyo came to power in 2001, according to the NUJP.
“The attacks and killings will only stop when the culture of impunity is dismantled and when government can ensure protection and justice for its citizens,” Nestor Burgos Jr., NUJP chairman, said in a statement. “We call on our colleagues and the people not to be cowed, stand firm against these attacks and defend our democratic institutions,” he said.
Source: RONALYN V. OLEA