MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/18 September) – A media organization has questioned the decision of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court barring them from covering the proceedings of the Ampatuan Massacre case on Wednesday, saying such decision “puts transparency and justice on the line”.
In a statement Wednesday, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said Mike Frialde of The Philippine Star, Evan Orias of Malaya, and Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN were barred from covering the case proceedings.
“NUJP is baffled after receiving reports from colleagues who were refused entry into the makeshift court inside the Quezon City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa this morning (Sept. 17), where trial for the 196 accused in the Ampatuan Massacre case is being held,” the statement said.
The Defense panel was supposed to present its first witness for the hearing of the bail petitions filed by the accused, it added.
Citing Frialde’s account as published Wednesday in www.philstar.com, the NUJP said Frialde and Orias were stopped by a certain PO3 Marlon Buenaflor from entering the main gate of Camp Bagong Diwa, where the QC jail annex is housed, at around 10:00 a.m.
“The two reporters proceeded to the jail annex after Frialde confirmed with Inspector Aris Villaester, public information officer of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology-National Capital Region that they could cover. But Buenaflor followed them, insisted they could not proceed, and told them to leave,” the statement said.
Drilon shared a similar experience on Twitter: “Today is [first] day the defense will present its evidence on petition for bail in Ampatuan massacre trial, but I can’t tell you what happened.” (https://twitter.com/cesdrilon/status/512075103077531648)
NUJP said that when Drilon inquired with BJMP, all that the agency told her was the courtroom was too full to accommodate the press.
Drilon’s tweet added this incident happened days after she did a story on the alleged smuggling of guns, money, and mobile phones into the jail facility by the Ampatuans. (https://twitter.com/cesdrilon/status/512066279713169408).
NUJP noted that media outfits and organizations had been allowed to cover the case proceedings provided they use no cameras and recording devices.
“The sudden change in policy this morning is surprising, to say the least,” it said.
NUJP learned from the Quezon City Regional Trial Court that the witness presented Wednesday was the 14-year-old daughter of former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan, and that the court barred coverage because she is a minor.
Section 22 of the Rules on Examination of a Child Witness gives the court the prerogative to exclude “all persons, including members of the press, who do not have a direct interest in the case,” when minors are presented to the witness stand.
But NUJP said “matters like sensitive handling of minors considered, don’t the media—which lost 32 of its members in that gruesome carnage, and the public—whom the government officials, police, and soldiers accused in this case were supposed to serve and protect, have a direct stake in the case? Don’t we have the right to know how the case is moving, if it actually does?
“Would this incident set precedence for more situations that could come at the expense of transparency in, and justice for, the massacre trial and other high-profile cases?”
NUJP said PO3 Buenaflor and the BJMP could just have given the three reporters a concrete answer if they knew the court’s decision to bar press coverage.
“Was today’s incident a mere lapse in communication among the Court, the police, and the BJMP? Especially with the recent exposés and attempts to abort the delivery of justice for our colleagues and their families, we could only hope it is,” the statement concluded. (MindaNews)