Ampatuan Massacre update: resignation of Maguindanao interpreter alarming

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/07 August)  — The cancellation of two hearings on the Ampatuan Massacre last week due to the absence of an interpreter who would translate the testimonies from Maguindanaon to English, has alarmed the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines  (NUJP), as reports indicate the interpreter was threatened by one of the principal suspects.

In  a statement, the NUJP cited media reports that lawyer Rolando Abo of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), was “threatened by Andal Ampatuan Sr., one of the principal accused” during the hearing on July 28. reported that Ampatuan Sr. told Abo “Ayusin mo ang pag-interpret ha”, while also quoted a source who said one of the suspects told Abo “Hindi pa tayo tapos, may araw ka pa.”

NCMF Commissioner Moner Bajunaid told MindaNews he “came to learn that interpreter Abo was threatened somehow by one of the accused.”

He said the report did not name the accused who made the alleged threat but said he pretended to stifle a yawn with his hand but positioned his fingers like he were pulling the trigger of a gun.

Bajunaid acknowledged the threat on Abu has made other possible interpreters from their Metro Manila office reluctant to take on the job as they have relatives in Cotabato City and Maguindanao.

Outside the NCMF, a frantic search last week in Manila for Maguindanaons who could serve as interpreter yielded discouraging results, again citing  security risks.

In his August 1 letter to Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes, Abo cited a hearing problem called tinnitus, a condition normally described as ringing in the ears, for his resignation.

Abo was supposed to continue interpreting last week but the judge had to call off both hearings after he sent a text message saying he had fever and colds, the NUJP said.

“If the reported threat against Abo is the real reason for his resignation – and we have no reason to doubt the reports – is true, it underscores the fact that prosecuting this case remains a long, tedious, difficult process that is fraught with danger for all those involved,” the NUJP said.

Thirty two of the 58 victims of the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre were from the media.

“We cannot and do not begrudge Mr. Abo’s decision to resign as interpreter. A threat from someone accused of ordering the mass murder of 58 persons, including 32 of our colleagues, should be taken seriously as the murders of a number of witnesses and witnesses’ relatives, and the threats and bribe attempts that keep coming at the victims’ families, has proven,” it said.

But the NUJP demanded that authorities, especially the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and other security forces responsible for guarding the proceedings and all those involved in it, to “perform their jobs as they should.”

“That one of the principal accused managed to approach the court interpreter, much less threaten him, is at best a breach of security and, at worse, an indication that those tasked with ensuring the safety of those involved in the case are incapable or unwilling of doing so,” the statement added.

“That this might be so is not farfetched, given the fact that a while detachment of the BJMP assigned to the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center was relieved following complaints by prosecution lawyers and the families of the victims that the principal accused were being allowed undue privileges,” it said.

The NUJP also said that while the immediate responsibility for this incident lies with the security forces, “ in the end, the buck stops with the national leadership, which has promised to deliver justice not only for those slaughtered in the hills of Ampatuan on November 2009 but for all other victims of the rampant violations of human rights that continue to be our people’s sorry lot.

Speaking at the massacre site on the first anniversary of the mass murder on November 23, 2010, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said: “until and unless justice has truly been done in this case, none of us could truly claim that the Filipino people have managed to reclaim their humanity. That is because this case – the battle to bring those responsible for this horror of horrors to justice – is the quest of the whole Filipino people. We have their blood in our collective hands. If we can’t bring them to justice, then we are a failure as a government and as a nation. This is a crime against the People of the Philippines in the truest sense of the term.”

In his four paragraph statement  on the first anniversary of the massacre, President Aquino said the resolution of the massacre case “has become the litmus test of our justice system. It is one of the top priorities of the Justice Department. We will not rest until justice has been served.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)