Local media dismayed over trial of Ampatuan massacre

AFTER four years, only a few suspects of the Ampatuan massacre in Maguindanao province have been arrested and arraigned, dismaying even the local media.

National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) Director Sonny Fernandez said out of the 196 identified suspects, only 103 were arrested and arraigned on the historic media killing in Maguindanao that took place in 2009.

He added that 93 suspects are still at large, and these include 28 Ampatuan clan members. Only five of the 28 Ampatuans were arraigned.

Fernandez said their plea to the Supreme Court is to speed up the process of solving the massacre in order to give justice to the victims.

The NUJP director revealed that the court’s target is before the year ends, the prosecution will close its presentation, giving way to the defense team to also present its side.

Fernandez said the trial's pace is too slow because of voluminous cases on the massacre that need crucial review. However, he said they suggested the private and public prosecution to do case conference to prioritize cases that have solid and strong evidences against the suspects but no one listened to the suggestion.

"PNoy (President Noynoy Aquino) should take concrete steps to end impunity in media killings because as if the Ampatuan massacre was not enough, 18 more journalists were killed and yet, there were only 11 convictions," Fernandez said.

Based on a report of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York, the Philippines ranks third in the world in the impunity index. The country also ranks second worldwide as most dangerous place for journalists.

NUJP Baguio and Benguet Chapter chairman Kathleen Okubo said, "Life is a basic right and it is in our justice system by the Constitution that you're not supposed to get killed. In acquiring justice, we also need the support of the government departments, everybody should supposed to cooperate and we, the practicing journalists in our experience anywhere in the Philippines, we feel that the wheels of justice is running too slow. Nobody is supposed to be killed for telling the truth."

Vice Chairman of NUJP Baguio and Benguet Chapter Arthur Alladiw said, "We share the same situation [here in Cordillera] with the national media [on impunity]."

He said there were also journalists and broadcasters in the region and in Ilocos Region who were killed in line of their duty. He added that there are threats and attacks too to fellow journalists and broadcasters.

Based on the record of NUJP-Baguio and Benguet Chapter, among those who were killed were: Jose Daguio of Tabuk, Kalinga who was killed on July 3, 2010; Cirilo Gallardo of Abra's dzMM, killed on January 31, 2011; Rey Pedronio of Baguio City, killed in 1999 allegedly by CPLA; Lito Agustin of Ilocos Norte working at DZJC as anchorman, killed on June 16, 2010; Roger Mariano of dzJC who was ambushed in San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte on July 31, 2004; Stephen Omaois, killed in Tabuk on November 2, 2004; Rogelio Villafuerte, technician of dzEQ Baguio City, shot by alleged policeman on January 26, 2005; Romy Sanchez who was then a La Union radio announcer and desk head of Northern Dispatch in La Union, killed in Baguio City on March 9, 2005; and Andres Acosta, announcer of dzJC, killed in Ilocos on December 21, 2006.

Some suspects on these cases were arrested but most of the masterminds remain still at large. There are also cases with continuing threats to the victim's family that delay the trial. Politically motivated attacks are also common in the region.

NJUP Baguio and Benguet Chapter treasurer Frank Cimatu said that under the current administration, there were already 19 journalists who were killed, while during the time of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 80 members of media, including the 32 in the Ampatuan case, were killed.

He added that six media men were killed during the time of Estrada and 11 were killed during Fidel Ramos’s regime. Sixteen media men were killed during the administration of Cory Aquino.

Cimatu said from all of these cases, only 11 were convicted but the masterminds were never arrested. Most of the dead media members were blocktimers and broadcasters from the province.
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