By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Media organizations here and abroad have raised alarm over the possibility that one of the suspects in the Ampatuan massacre would be released from detention.
The gruesome Ampatuan massacre on Nov. 23, 2009 claimed the lives of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists and media workers. It has been regarded as one of the worst attacks on press freedom not only in the Philippines but in the whole world.
One of the primary suspects, Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan filed a petition for certiorari before the Court of Appeals.. Should the appellate court rule in his favor, Zaldy would be dropped from the list of those accused of masterminding and carrying out the massacre and could be released from detention.
The petition for certiorari was filed against former Justice Secretary Alberto Agra who earlier dropped Zaldy from the list of suspects but later reversed his decision. Zaldy claimed in his petition that Agra committed abuse of discretion for reversing himself.
“We are not prejudging the guilt or innocence of Mr. Ampatuan. Both also assume that the justices of the Court of Appeals will base their decision on the strength and credibility of the evidence Mr. Ampatuan has submitted. But for the significance of the trial and its relevance to Philippine democracy and press freedom, it is imperative that the process be perceived as credible and beyond question,” the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFJ), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), Philippine Center for Photojournalism and the November 23 Movement said in a joint statement.
In a separate statement, international press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned “President Benigno Aquino III’s administration that it will break its promise to combat impunity if it yields to the pressure from the Ampatuan family.”
“Everything possible must be done to hold the trial within a reasonable period and Zaldy Ampatuan must be shown no leniency. In view of the gravity of this mass murder, the credibility of the Philippine justice system is now at stake,” the RSF said further.
If new evidence is found to once more include Zaldy in the conspiracy and multiple murder charges, the process will have to begin all over again.
RSF noted that the members of the Ampatuan clan, including alleged masterminds Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Andal Ampatuan Jr. have yet to be tried.
“Should the perpetrators of the massacre, whoever they are, literally get away with murder, it will send the strongest message yet that neither the murder of journalists in such numbers, or that of politicians’ families and their partisans, can move the justice system to begin to dismantle the culture of impunity, or exemption from punishment, that has taken deep roots in Philippine society. It will also encourage further killings. It is crucial not only to the media, but also and even more importantly, to Philippine democracy, that the Ampatuan Massacre trial deliver to the kin of the slain the justice that has eluded so many in this country,” the joint statement of local media groups further stated.
The local media groups called on the public to “vigilantly monitor the process so its integrity can be accurately evaluated in keeping with their sovereign right as citizens to have their voices heard on matters of public concern and urgency.”