More sectors join calls for live coverage of Ampatuan Massacre trial; Senate resolution filed

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 November) – More calls for live coverage of the hearings in the  multiple murder cases filed on behalf of the victims of the November 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindnao have been sounded off not only by the relatives’ victims and the media but also by the Department of Justice and the Senate.

At the Senate, Senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan on Wednesday filed Resolution 186 expressing the sense of the senate that the trial “be made public through radio and television coverage of the court proceedings” and to increase the frequency of the once-weekly hearings to twice-weekly.

“It would be in the best interest of our judiciary to have transparency in the judicial process, especially in such an unprecedented case of brutality that captured the attention of the international media. The Constitution recognizes the right of the people to public information on matter of public concern,” Pangilinan’s press statement read.

“My fear is that this dark moment in our history will be trivialized as years pass. The government is duty-bound to uphold the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. While the accused is entitled to due process, the victims, their families and more importantly, the public also have the right to be informed of the actual, transparent and impartial court proceedings,” the statement read.

The Department of Justice also wants to fast-track the proceedings and quoted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima as saying “we’re going to increase the number of trial days from one to two days a week, and also, for each hearing, at least two witnesses to be presented,” an report said.

Fifty-eight persons were killed, among them 32 media workers, in the worst pre-election violence in Philippine history. A convoy of the wife and relatives of then Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan, Maguindanao, including media workers and two female lawyers, was en route to the provincial Commission on Elections office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao when flagged down by about a hundred armed men reportedly led by then Datu Unsay mayor Datu Andal Ampatuan, Jr. along the national highway in Ampatuan town,  herded to an interior area at the foot of Daguma Range some 3.5 kilometers away from the highway in Sitio Masalay, Barangay Salman, and there gunned down, some of them dumped in mass graves along with some crushed vehicles in an apparent attempt to bury the evidence.

Ampatuan, Jr., intended to run for governor, unopposed like his father, Datu Andal Sr., in 2007, when he ran for a third term.

Media groups and families of the victims have repeatedly appealed for live coverage of the hearings.

Lawyer Rachel Pastores of the Public Interest Law Center, according to GMANews.TV. said they are calling for a “a review of existing jurisprudence on live coverage and based its ruling on current conditions and needs.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a press conference in Quezon City Wednesday announced the commemoration activities on the first anniversary of the massacre, the media petition for live coverage and launched public service advertisements on press freedom and justice for the victims of the massacre.

Senator Pangilinan noted that if the hearings are done  twice a week “and if we make that transparent by broadcasting the trial live, then that would facilitate the speedy dispensation of justice because the court knows that the whole world will be watching.”

Prosecutors have been complaining of delaying tactics from the Ampatuans’ lawyers.

The senator said courts should be careful not to play into the delaying tactics of the defense.

“The prosecution has 227 witnesses while the defense has 373. May mga nababalita pang mga delaying tactics. Hindi yata maganda ang tinatakbo ng kaso. Isang taon na ang nakalipas. Namatayan na nga tayo ng isang prosecutor (Senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera died of a heart attack Nov 4, 2010). Kung gagapang ang kaso ng matagal, e tila ‘di natin makakamtan ang tunay na hustisya.” [There are reports of delaying tactics. The progress of the case does not look good. One year has passed. We’ve even lost one prosecutor. If the case drags on, we won’t get justice], he said. (MindaNews)