SC allows live coverage of Ampatuan Massacre trial

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/14 June) – “Happy and thankful” was how Reynafe Momay-Castillo, daughter of the 58th victim of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, felt when she learned of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision today allowing for a live coverage of the twice-weekly trial of the case.

“We now have what we want which is to have a live coverage of the trial,” she told MindaNews.

The remains of Castillo’s father, Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay, photographer of the Midland Review in Tacurong City, have yet to be recovered. Only his dentures were found in the massacre site.

Voting unanimously, the Supreme Court today partially granted pro hac vice (for this one particular occasion) the request for live broadcast by television and radio of the trial court proceedings of the Ampatuan Massacre cases “subject to the guidelines set by the Court,” the Supreme Court said in a news release posted on its website.

In a 15-page resolution penned by Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, the Court said: “It is about time to craft a win-win situation that shall not compromise rights in the criminal administration of justice, sacrifice press freedom and allied rights, and interfere with the integrity, dignity and solemnity of judiciary proceedings.”

The petitions for live coverage were filed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., relatives of the victims, individual journalists from various media entities, and members of the academe. The court also considered the November 22, 2010 letter of President Aquino to Chief Justice Renato Corona in support of those petitioned.

The court also outlined guidelines for the live coverage of the trial, among them, that a single fixed compact camera shall be installed inconspicuously inside the courtroom by the SC’s Public Information Office, “to provide a single wide-angle full-view of the sala of the trial court.” Other cameras will take the live feed from this camera.

Rowena Paraan, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said “it’s a historic decision given that before this, all jurisprudence were against the petition. It sets a precedent, kahit pa sabihing (even if they say) it is being applied only to this case, and hopefully will serve as first step in bringing transparency in the courts and will help in the struggle for justice for massacre victims.”

Red Batario, executive director of the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), said that by allowing live coverage, “the Supreme Court has put premium on the people’s right to know and the media’s role in fulfilling its duty to serve public interest.”

“The SC decision is a most welcome development and should be seen as a triumph of justice and the fulfillment of basic human rights,” Batario added.

The decision is a “very heartwarming development,” said Aquiles Zonio, correspondent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer who, along with two other journalists, was supposed to join the convoy of media workers and relatives of then Buluan vice mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu en route to the Commission on Elections provincial office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.

The convoy, led by Mangudadatu’s wife and sisters, was supposed to file the vice mayor’s certificate of candidacy for governor of Maguindanao. Mangudadatu himself was dissuaded from going to the area to avoid trouble with his former ally, Andal Ampatuan Sr., the three-term governor since 2001, who was supposed to field his son, Andal Ampatuan Jr., to run for governor.

“Now the whole country can witness the trial live,” Zonio said.

Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan lauded the Supreme Court’s decision. Pangilinan in November 2010 filed Resolution 186 calling for a live coverage of the trials, noting that “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.”

“We believe that having live coverage would help in the process of speedy dispensation of justice as the whole world will be watching,” Pangilinan said of the SC decision. “Such transparency will help uphold the reputation of our courts and will eliminate doubts in the minds of our countrymen. The trial has dragged on for more than a year and the victims and their families are hungry for justice. This is a step towards the right direction,” he said.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221, is presiding over the trial.

The Supreme Court’s guidelines, posted on its website:
1.    An audio-visual recording of the Maguindanao massacre cases may be made both for documentary purposes and for transmittal to live broadcast broadcasting;
2.    Media entities must file with the trial court a letter of application, manifesting that they intend to broadcast the audio-visual recording (AVR) of the proceedings; no selective or partial coverage shall be allowed and no media entity shall be allowed to broadcast the proceedings without an application duly approved by the trial court;
3.    A single fixed compact camera shall be installed inconspicuously inside the courtroom to provide a single wide-angle full-view of the sala of the trial court; no panning and zooming shall be allowed to avoid unduly highlighting or downplaying incidents in the proceedings; The SC Public Information Office and the Office of the Court Administrator shall coordinate and assist the trial court on the physical set-up of the camera and equipment;
4.    The transmittal of the AVR from inside the courtroom to the media entities shall be conducted in such a way that the least physical disturbance shall be ensured;
5.    The broadcasting of the proceedings for a particular day must be continuous and in its entirety;
6.    No commercial break or any other gap shall be allowed until the day’s proceedings are adjourned, except during the period of recess call by the trial court and during portions of the proceedings wherein the public is ordered excluded;
7.    The proceedings shall be broadcast without any voice-overs, except brief annotations of scenes depicted therein as may be necessary to explain them at the start or at the end of the scene;
8.    No repeat airing of the AVR shall be allowed until after the finality of judgment, except brief footages and still images derived from or cartographic sketches of scenes based on the recording, only for news purposes, which shall likewise observe the sub judice rule and be subject to the contempt power of the court;
9.    The original AVR shall be deposited in the National Museum and the Records Management and Archives Office for preservation and exhibition; and
10.    The AVR of the proceedings shall be made under the supervision and control of the trial court.

A special committee will be created by the Supreme Court to “forthwith study, design, and recommend appropriate arrangements, implementing regulations, and administrative matters referred to it by the Court concerning the live broadcast of the proceedings pro hac vice, in accordance with the above-outlined guidelines.”

Earlier guidelines set by the trial court such as prohibition on recording devices such as still cameras, tape recorders; and allowable number of media practitioners inside the courtroom will continue to be observed. (MindaNews)