Appeal to UNESCO on the classification of the Ampatuan Massacre case

Alarmed by the supposed UNESCO classification of the Ampatuan massacre case as “resolved” from news reports that were based on a press release of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS), a broad group of organizations and individuals signed on to this letter that was sent to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay through the DG Secretariat last September 12, 2020. The letter remains unacknowledged to this day.


AUDREY AZOULAY
Director General
UNESCO
7 Fontenoy Place
Paris, France

12 September 2020

Re: Classification of Ampatuan massacre case

Dear Madam:

Greetings from the Philippines! We hope this letter finds you safe and well during such difficult times.

We – the families of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan massacre, as well as media groups, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens who have stood with them in their continuing search for justice – wish to express our distress and disappointment as news reports, including from government media, have called attention to UNESCO’s classification of the entire case as “resolved” and citing this as an accomplishment of the Duterte administration and its efforts to protect journalists.

We refer you to the following articles, including one from the state-run Philippine News Agency, which marks it as a press release from the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) in the Malacañang Palace:

https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1114216

https://www.philstar.com/nation/2020/09/04/2040042/maguindanao-massacre-resolved-unesco/

https://newsline.ph/top-stories/2020/09/07/unesco-classifies-ampatuan-massacre-case-as-resolved/

These news reports quote from a letter that former Assistant Director General Moez Chackchouk apparently wrote to Ambassador Theresa Lazaro, Philippine Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and Philippine Ambassador to France, to wit: “I am pleased to confirm that we will classify these as resolved, both in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists and in the 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists.”

We acknowledge that the court decision on December 19, 2019, which convicted 28 of the accused of planning and carrying out that most gruesome crime – and 15 others as accessories – was a triumph of justice for the victims of the worst incident of electoral violence in Philippine history, and the deadliest single attack on journalists in the world.

Regrettably, that one court decision does not mean that the case is “resolved.” Far from it.

First, while there has been a verdict, the Ampatuan convictions can still be and, in fact, have been appealed. Brothers Zaldy Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan, Jr. have filed their appeals before the Court of Appeals, while another brother, Anwar Ampatuan, and his two sons, Anwar Ampatuan, Jr. and Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, have appealed before the trial court that convicted them.

Second, nearly 80 more suspects, 15 of them surnamed Ampatuan, remain at large more than a decade after the mass murder. All of them should be tried, but as of February 20, 2020, only four, two of them policemen, have been arrested and are on trial. Another principal accused, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, brother of Zaldy, Andal Jr. and Anwar Ampatuan, was acquitted even if he was present at the meeting when the massacre was planned. He is now an incumbent mayor of a town in Maguindanao province, where the massacre happened.

This is the reason why the families of the 32 journalists who perished, as well as the witnesses who testified for the prosecution, continue to fear for their safety. As many are not enrolled in the Department of Justice’s witness protection program, and continue to live in their known communities, they remain exposed to possible retaliation and attacks.

Third, the victims’ families, and we who have been with them throughout their difficult struggle, still cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that, while the court, more than three years into the trial, allowed the inclusion of photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay among the victims –bringing the total count to 58 even if his body was never found – only issued convictions for 57 counts of murder, dashing the hopes of justice for Momay’s family.

It is also important to note that, in January 2015, criminal charges were filed before the Maguindanao provincial prosecutor against 49 other persons, including local government officials and police officers, for their alleged participation in the planning, execution, and subsequent cover-up of the Ampatuan massacre. Although these charges have yet to be resolved by the prosecutor, we understand that the lawyers of the victims’ families intend to pursue these cases.

It is unfortunate that UNESCO’s conclusion appears to have relied solely upon government claims, without consideration for the other facts and contexts surrounding the case — a glaring oversight, considering that many of us have good relations and work closely with your agency’s Jakarta, Bangkok, and other offices.

We are most distressed that Mr. Chackchouk’s letter is now being used by the Duterte administration to paint a misleading picture of the state of press freedom in the country. For example, Undersecretary Joel Egco, the executive director of PTFOMS, has said: “With UNESCO acknowledging the finality of the Ampatuan Massacre, we can proudly proclaim to the world that any violence against our media workers will never go unpunished, and that the so-called ‘culture of impunity’ against journalists in the country has finally come to an end.”

Lest it be forgotten, of the 188 journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986, 16 have lost their lives under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has not bothered to hide his disdain for free and independent media. Duterte led the charge to shut down ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network. His government continues to hound independent online news outfit Rappler and its founder and CEO Maria Ressa with dubious legal cases. His national security advisers have incessantly tagged news outfits and journalists who have criticized the government as allies or pawns of “terrorists.” This is a particular source of concern, in view of the recent enactment of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law. We hope that UNESCO will not play into the attempts to “sanitize” the reputation of the Duterte government among international agencies in view of the pending scrutiny of the President by the International Criminal Court.

UNESCO is known for looking at complex issues with a wide lens. In this instance, the wide lens fails to reflect the legal processes and ignores the pertinent issues which delay justice in the system. We recommend reviewing this wide lens as it applies to the Ampatuan trial and the court decision in 2019 so as not to betray the hopes of the families of the victims who are still awaiting justice.

We, the undersigned, respectfully call upon your office to proactively exercise its mandate by doing due diligence and complete staff work on this matter to ensure that declarations about these cases reflect the reality on ground. In this way, UNESCO could arrive at a balanced and comprehensive assessment of press freedom and freedom of expression in general in the Philippines, beginning with thorough consultations with key stakeholders, and not only State officials.

We would be most grateful for your attention and consideration as this is a matter of utmost concern.

Many thanks. In the meantime, please be assured of our esteem and continuing support.

With best wishes,

Organizational Signatories

Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) – Ray Paolo J. Santiago, Executive Director
Bulatlat.com
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) – Melinda Quintos-De Jesus, Executive Director
Davao Today – Lucelle Bonzo, Executive Director
Digital News Exchange – Julius D. Mariveles, Executive Editor
Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) – Liza Garcia, Executive Director
In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) – Niza Concepcion, Communications Officer
Journalism Studies Association of the Philippines (JSAP)
Mindanao News Express – Michael Navarro, CEO / Executive Publisher
MindaNews – Carolyn O. Arguillas, Editor in Chief
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) – Nonoy Espina, Chairperson
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) – Rosemarie Trajano, Secretary General
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) – Floreen Simon, Officer-in-Charge
Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS), Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, MPH, DrPH
Philippine Press Institute (PPI) – Ariel Sebellino, Executive Director
Philippines Communication Society
University of the Philippines Department of Journalism
VERA Files – Ellen Tordesillas, Board of Trustees President

Individual Signatories

Abdul Manan – Chairman, Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia
Albert C. Lee – Freelance Journalist
Alisandra E. Abadia – Kabataan Para Sa Karapatan Negros Oriental
Anne Krueger  – Paghimutad Negros
Anthony (Anton) M. Juan, Jr., Ph.D – Full Professor / Theatre and Film Director & Playwright, University of Notre Dame
Antonio G. M. La Viña – Professor of Constitutional Law, University of the Philippines College of Law
Antonio J Montalvan II – Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer
Asuncion Benitez-Rush
Bambina Olivares
Bella Perez-Rubio – Philstar.com
Benjamin de la Peña
Berlita Ante – Spokesperson, Kadamay Negros
Bernardino P. Testa – Former President, Press Photographer of the Philippines
Bryan Bosque – Chairperson, Anakbayan Panay
Camille Diola  – Philstar.com
Carlos Conde – Human Rights Watch
Carmela Fonbuena – Freelance Journalist; The Guardian
Catalina Ricci Madarang – Interaksyon
Che Sarigumba – Writer/Journalist
Checcs O. Orbida – Vice President, PeacePond Farmers Association
Chickoy Pura – Musician/Songwriter, The Jerks
Chito Quijano – Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)
Chris Sorio – Chairperson, BAYAN-Canada
Cindy Domingo – Chair, LELO/A Legacy of Equality Leadership and Organizing United States
Clarizza Singson – Secretary General, KARAPATAN Negros Island
Clement C. Camposano – President, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty member, University of the Philippines Diliman
Crimson Labinghisa – Coordinator, Kabataan Partylist Panay
Cristina Palabay – Secretary General, KARAPATAN
Dana Batnag
Danilo Arao – Associate Editor, Bulatlat.com
Danilo dela Fuente – Vice Chairperson, SELDA
Danilo Fabella – Songwriter/Performer, Musikangbayan
Danilo Tabura – Spokesperson, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Negros
Diego Malacad – Secretary General, Undoc-Piston
Dinah Tapiah Roma
Dr. Vicente Rafael – Professor of History, University of Washington
Dr. Rachel A.G. Reyes
Edeliza Hernandez – Medical Action Group (MAG)
Edgar Cadagat – Journalist
Edna Aquino – Human rights advocate
Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV – Philstar.com
Elizabeth Gonzales – Private citizen
Elizabeth L. Enriquez – Board Member and Treasurer, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty Member, University of the Philipines Diliman
Elmer Forro – Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Panay
Emmanuel Amistad – Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
Emmanuelle Duterte, MD
Ereneo Longinos – Deputy Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros
Erlinda Cadapan – Chairperson, Desaparacidos
Eunice Barbara C. Novio – Journalist / OFW
Evangeline Hernandez – Chairperson, Hustisya
Fe Mangahas
Felipe Gelle – Deputy Secretary General, September 21 Movement
Francis Allan L. Angelo – Daily Guardian
Franco Luna – Philstar.com
Gaea Katreena Cabico – Philstar.com
Gianna Montinola
Gino Lopez – Paghimutad Negros
Grace Morales – JUSTICE NOW (the organization of families of the 32 slain journalists)
Hannah Papasin – Managing Editor, Digital News Exchange
Ian Nicolas Cigaral – Philstar.com
Inday Espina-Varona – Journalist
Jaileen Jimeno – Journalist
Jaira Balboa – Philstar.com
Jairo Bolledo – NUJP; Department of Journalism Polytechnic University of the Philippines      James Relativo – Philstar.com
Jane Worthington – Director, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific
Janess Ann J. Ellao – Bulatlat.com
Jeline Malasig – Interaksyon
Jennie Arado – Editor, SunStar Davao
Jerbert Briola – Human Rights Online Philippines
Jervis Manahan – News Reporter, ABS-CBN News
Jesson Reyes – Managing Director, Migrants Resource Centre Canada
Jet C. Orbida – President, PeacePond Farmers Association
Joel Pablo Salud – Writer/Journalist
John “Butch” Lozande – Secretary General, National Federation of Sugar Workers
John Ian Alenciaga – Coordinator, Altermidya Panay
Jojo Riñoza – Freelance Photojournalist
Jonathan Basanta García – Profesor de Español, Cencias Sociales y Teoría del Conocimiento
Jonathan De Santos – Philstar.com
Joseph Bernard Marzan – Daily Guardian
Judy Taguiwalo – Former Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development
Julianne Balora – Spokesperson, Kabataan Partylist Negros
Juluis A. Dagatan – Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros
Jyasmin M. Calub-Bautista – Assistant Professor, Department of Development Journalism, College of Development Communication, UP Los Baños
Karl De Mesa – Freelance Journalist
Kaye M. Casimero – Anakbayan Western Visayas State University
Kristine Daguno-Bersamina – Philstar.com
Kristine Joy Patag – Philstar.com
Kristofer Purnell – Philstar.com
Kriztine R. Viray – Philippines Communication Society
Lila Ramos Shahani – Former Secretary-General, Philippine National Commission for UNESCO
Lisa Ito – Secretary General, Concerned Artists of the Philippines
Lisandro Claudio – Assistant Professor, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley
Lorenzo Tañada III – Former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives
Lui Queano – Coordinator, Malaya Canada
Luisa Morales – Philstar.com
Ma. Arve B. Bañez – University Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas
Ma. Diosa Labiste – Board Member, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty Member, University of the Philippines Diliman
Mae Paner – Artist / Cultural worker
Malcolm Guy – Documentary filmmaker; President, Productions Multi-Monde Inc.
Manuel Mogato – Journalist
Marchel Espina – NUJP Bacolod
Marden Jalandoon – Secretary General, Gabriela Negros
Maria Jovita Zarate – Board Member and Secretary, Philippine Studies Association; Senior Lecturer, University of the Philippines Open University
Maria Karina Africa Bolasco – Book Publisher
Marianito Amacan – Spokesperson, Kilusang Mayo Uno Negros
Marie Boti – Documentary filmmaker; President, Diffusion Multi-Monde Inc.
Marizon B. Esquela – Private citizen
Mary Ann M. Arnado – Secretary General, Mindanao Peoples Caucus
Mate Espina – Columnist, The Visayan Daily Star
Melanie Morrison – Project Manager, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific
Mia Magdalena Capuyan Fokno – Baguio Chronicle
Michael Jobert Navallo – Reporter, ABS-CBN News
Mideo M Cruz – Artist
Milo Paz – Writer/Filmmaker
Monet Pura – Band manager, The Jerks
Monina Gulmatico – Spokesperson, Migrante Negros
Nilda Lagman–Sevilla – Co-Chairperson, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances
(FIND)
Noel C. Esquela – HR, Migrants, and Overseas Absentee Voting advocate
Oscar V. Campomanes – Ateneo de Manila University
Pastor Jec Borlado – Program Director, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches
Patricia Depra – Coordinator, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Negros Island Region
Patricia Lourdes Viray – Philstar.com
Paulynn Paredes Sicam – Freelance journalist; Editor, Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN)
Pepito “Pete” Pico – Spokesperson, Movement Against Tyranny Negros
Priscilla Goco – Partido Manggagawa Negros
Ramon Guillermo – Professor, Center for International Studies (CIS) UP Diliman
Ratna Ariyanti – South East Asia Coordinator, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific
Ratziel San Juan – Philstar.com
Red Batario – Center for Community Journalism and Development
Remmon E. Barbaza, Ph.D. – Department of Philosophy, Ateneo de Manila University
Renato M. Reyes, Jr. – Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
Rev. Fr. Julian Jagudilla, OFM – Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)
Rev. Joy Tajonera – Director, Ugnayan Migrant Ministry
Rev. Luis Daniel Alba Pantoja, BA, MA, ThM – Peacebuilding Missionary
Reylan Vergara – Secretary General, Panay Alliance Karapatan
Rhea Gamana – Secretary-General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Canada
Rico Foz – Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)
Rigie O. Malinao – Convenor, Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan (KATAPAT)
RJ Ledesma – Chairperson, League of Filipino Students Bacolod
Romana P. de los Reyes – Environmentalist
Rommel F. Lopez – PressONE.ph
Ronald U. Mendoza, Ph.D. – Dean, Ateneo School of Government
Rosario Liquicia – Trustee/Editor, VERA Files
Rosette Adel – Interaksyon
Rowel C. Montes – Program Director, Sunshine Radio Tacloban
Siegfred Deduro – Vice President for Visayas, MAKABAYAN Panay
Sr. Aquila Sy – Presentation Sisters
Susan Jaro – Promotion of Church People’s Response
Susan Roxas – Private citizen
Susan Severino Lara – Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas
Taher Guiambangan Solaiman – Journalist
Ted Aldwin Ong – Journalist
Tess Bacalla – Project Lead, Asia Democracy Chronicles
Tita Valderama – Journalist
Tomasito T. Talledo – Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas, Miag-ao, Iloilo Campus
Tyrone Velez – Columnist, SunStar Davao
Very Rev. Marco Sulayao – Chairperson, Promotion of Church People’s Response Panay and Guimaras
Victor Kintanar – Photojournalist, Licas.News
Walden Bello – Former Congressman; Professor, The State University of New York at Binghamton; National Chairperson of Laban ng Masa
Weldon M. McCarty – Writer
Wilson Gamboa Jr. – Councilor, Bacolod City
Woodrow Francia – Journalist
Ysh Cabana – Stop the Killings in the Philippines-Canada Network

cc:

Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Agnes Callamard
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Irene Khan
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Peggy Hicks
Senior Director, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights
(Lead on Violence Against Journalists Strategy)

Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi
Chief of Section, Section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists

Ming Lim Kuok
UNESCO Jakarta

Moek Chackchouck
Former Assistant Director General, Communications and Information, UNESCO

Christine Delsol
Executive Assistant to Former ADG Chackchouk

Grace Morales
JUSTICE NOW (the organization of families of the 32 slain journalists)

Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network Conveners

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, MindaNews, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Philippine Press Institute

 

Comments

comments