THE widows of slain journalists in the November 23 massacre in Maguindanao filed criminal and administrative cases against the general who failed to provide the journalists with their requested security escorts.

Represented by their counsel, UP College of Law professor Harry Roque said Philippine Army (PA) Vice Commander Major General Alfredo Cayton and Colonel Medardo Geslani were slapped with gross negligence, act of repression and dereliction of duty before the Ombudsman for the Military and other Law Enforcement Offices based in Davao City.

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“We are filing this case because we believe that the newly-promoted General Cayton and Colonel Geslani should face criminal and administrative cases for their negligence,” Roque said in a text message to Sun.Star.

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Cayton and Geslani, then commanders of the 6th Infantry Division and 601st Brigade, respectively, were ordered relieved following reports that they turned down the request of the Mangudadatu clan for security escorts.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), however, on its investigation released on December 10 last year that the two were not "remiss in their responsibilities as commanders on the ground."

AFP spokesman Romeo Brawner said that both Geslani and Cayton admitted turning down the Mangudadatu clan’s request for security escorts due to lack of available soldiers.

Quoting the two officials, Brawner said that prior to the massacre, a battalion was sent to Samar, leaving only two battalions – composed more or less of 1,000 soldiers - in the entire Maguindanao province. The battalion returned days after the mass killing.

Brawner added that soldiers are not also allowed to provide security to a group performing "a political activity."

“Soldiers are not allowed to serve as escorts in a political activity. We are supposed to be neutral and apolitical.”

Live coverage

Meanwhile, Roque said their group supports the call of media and militant groups to allow live television and radio coverage in the trial, saying it is of “national interest.”

"I think it is high time for us to allow live coverage. Even in the United States, some jurisprudence allow the use of it because both sides will really try to be the best during a televised trial. There should be wider coverage and greater transparency," Roque said.

The Supreme Court (SC) earlier prohibited live coverage of the trial and the use of electronic devices to record court proceedings presided by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes.

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The basis referred to an en banc resolution on October 22, 1991 pertaining to the libel case that then President Corazon Aquino filed against then newspaper columnist Luis Beltran.

“Representatives of the press have no special standing to apply for a writ of mandate to compel a court to permit them to attend a trial, since, within the court room, a reporter’s constitutional rights are no greater than those of any other member of the public," an excerpt from the resolution read.

“Considering the prejudice it poses to the defendant’s right to due process as well as to the fair and orderly administration of justice and considering further that the freedom of the press and the right of the people to information may be served and satisfied by less distracting, degrading and prejudicial means, live radio and television coverage of court proceedings shall not be allowed,” it added.

Last week, a group of militants on Wednesday massed outside Camp Crame in Quezon City, protesting the restrictions being imposed on media in covering the multiple murder trial of Maguindanao massacre key suspect Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr.

SC Deputy Administrator lawyer Jose Midas Marquez earlier said live media coverage may be allowed if the petitioners can show that live coverage would not violate the respondent’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Trial resumes Wednesday with the prosecution set to present two witnesses, including the videographer who took the first footage of the massacre that killed 57 people, including 30 journalists in the worst political violence in the country's history. (Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)