Justice Secretary, Journalists Agree that Ampatuan Massacre Trial Crucial in Addressing Impunity

“The case of the Ampatuan massacre is not just a matter of prosecuting individuals. It also requires the neutralization of the whole machinery of violence and brutality that is fueled by power, political influence and wealth.” Justice Secretary Leila de Lima


MANILA – “When the powerful and the wealthy kill journalists, there has been a pattern in which they could get away with it,” said Luis Teodoro, deputy executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR). In his speech before the delegates of the seventh Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), he called on the Aquino government to address the problem of killings of journalists.

Since 1986, NUJP said, 141 journalists have been killed. One hundred seven were killed under the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo government and one under the new administration of Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

“Impunity continues because of the weaknesses of the justice system,” said Teodoro who is also a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications (UP-CMC). Only four cases have been more or less resolved, he added.

Teodoro said the justice system cannot operate effectively. “Prosecutors are afraid either because the police and military are in collusion with the perpetrators or the police and military are involved in the killings,” he said, adding that CMFR studies prove this.

Teodoro cited the case of Edgar Damalerio, managing editor of the weekly newspaper Zamboanga Scribe and a commentator on DXKP radio station, who was shot dead on May 13, 2002 in Pagadian City. Police officer Guillermo Wapile is the primary suspect in Damalerio’s murder.

“There is a shortfall in the number of prosecutors. They are overworked, [saddled] with hundreds of cases… There is also a lack of enthusiasm to prosecute killers of journalists,” Teodoro concluded.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, in her keynote address to the NUJP Congress, admitted that “prosecutors do not yet have the right mindset when it comes to dealing with killings of journalists.”

De Lima is advocating for prosecutors to get involved in the case build up, as is the practice in the United States. “In the Philippines, the practice is that prosecutors are not involved in the gathering of evidence. But they know which evidence would be admissible in court. So I have been encouraging prosecutors to get involved at the investigation stage. However, prosecutors helping in the case build up would be different from those conducting the preliminary investigation.”

Teodoro said the Aquino government can enhance the witness protection program of the Department of Justice, reform the prosecutorial service by raising the salaries of prosecutors and hiring more prosecutors.

Private Armies

Teodoro also pointed to the reality of warlords and private armies such as in the case of the Ampatuan massacre. “Government security forces have themselves been privatized. It’s a situation encouraged by the central government. Security forces become independent power themselves. It is the police and military who have exclusive monopoly over arms,” he said.

“Disband private armies, CVO and CAFGU. This is do-able on the part of government but the government won’t do it,” Teodoro said.

When asked about the plan of the Aquino administration with regards the numerous calls to disband paramilitary groups, de Lima said Aquino is still studying the matter. She said the military reasoned that they lack manpower for counterinsurgency operations.

“If that is the policy, something like the Ampatuan massacre will occur again,” Teodoro predicted. “Without disbanding private armies, there will be that constant danger.”

Combating Impunity

Teodoro said punishment for the perpetrators of the Ampatuan massacre is especially crucial. It would send the message whether these crimes would be tolerated or not.

Justice will be served, de Lima assured the journalists. “We recognize the personal stake each of you has in this trial. After all, aside from the Ampatuans and the others accused, what is on trial here is our whole criminal judicial system.”

De Lima is supportive of the call for live coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial.

The case of the Ampatuan massacre “is not just a matter of prosecuting individuals,” said de Lima. “It also requires the neutralization of the whole machinery of violence and brutality that is fueled by power, political influence and wealth.” (Bulatlat.com)

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