BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Friday, November 23, 2012

Three Years Ago Today


Aquino gov't policies, politics, inaction
delay justice for Maguindanao martyrs

THE FAMILIES of the 58 victims of the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre are starting to lose hope in the justice system, and the government has only itself to blame.

As we commemorate the third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, where 32 journalists and media workers were among the murdered, only two of the eight Ampatuan clan members in jail have been arraigned. Some witnesses have died. Some relatives of the victims have fled their hometowns following receipt of death threats.

In August 2010, President Benigno S. Aquino III promised five crucial reforms to help speed up the quest for justice. Among these were improvements to the Witness Protection Program, the formation of quick-response teams to investigate media killings, measures to speed up the pace of the trial, and a review of the Rules of Court to mitigate possible abuse and manipulation.

The problems raised are hardly imaginary. As a Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) study shows, some 100 warlords continue to rule areas in the country that have chalked up the most number of media killings.

Even as fear of reprisals continue to haunt witnesses and plaintiffs in the case, the government of Mr. Aquino and other major political parties in the country have embraced the Ampatuan clan.

At least 72 Ampatuan clan members are candidates in the May 2013 elections, nine of them running under the Liberal Party, and 34 others under the United Nationalist Alliance of Vice President Jejomar Binay.

The big number of candidates from the clan bares an intact financial and power infrastructure. In fact, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) shows that Andal Ampatuan Jr. has managed to sell eight prime properties, an outrage when the government has pledged to forfeit wealth that multiplied many times as the clan consolidated its powers with help from successive administrations that wooed the clan’s formidable voting machine.

Nov. 23 is also the International Day to end Impunity. A Southeast Asian Press Alliance report shows the Philippines, supposedly the region’s most vibrant democracy, remains the most dangerous place for journalists.

A total of 153 journalists have been killed since 1986. Of these, at least 14 had been murdered during the administration of Mr. Aquino. Of the total cases, only 10 cases have won partial convictions. No mastermind has ever been brought to trial.

A survey of all cases of media killings will show that half of the suspects are state actors – policemen, soldiers, and elected officials. The Aquino administration’s embrace of a clan long known for warlordism only highlights how state policy can fuel impunity.

Aside from the killings, Mr. Aquino has consistently exhibited a penchant for proposals to curtail press freedom and freedom of expression.

Despite his avowed pledge to implement “tuwid na daan,” he has reneged on a promise to prioritize the passage of the Freedom of Information bill – an initiative that could help his government fulfil its promise to rid the country of corruption.

What he has supported instead is the patently unconstitutional Cybercrime Prevention Act, a law which grants the state draconian powers to crack down on dissent and critical expression on digital space.

Lately, the President has even mentioned in glowing terms the Right to Reply initiative, which would force the press to hand over its space to the whims of politicians and other powerful individuals and groups seeking to manage the flow of information.

Taken together, the acts of commission and omission by the Aquino administration betray sheer lip service to justice and press freedom, and a dangerous tendency to sacrifice both to the exigencies of power.


Center for Community Journalism and Development
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
Philippine Press Institute
University of the Philippines-College of Mass Communication