“Rather than demonstrating the government’s sincerity in seeing the trial to a credible conclusion, the ban [on media coverage] provokes suspicions that concealing vital information from the public is in progress.” – Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A coalition of media groups filed charges before the Office of the Ombudsman today November 11 against officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) for barring journalists from covering the Ampatuan massacre trial.
In its complaint, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ) said that since Aug. 14, the police have prevented members of the media from covering the criminal proceedings at the Quezon City Jail Annex special courtroom.
The FFFJ said Police Chief Supt. Reuben Theodore Sindac, Police Senior Supt. Wilben Mayor and Jail Inspector Lloyd Gonzaga should be held liable for violation of the people’s right to information and to a free press. Sindac and Mayor ordered the ban on the media coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial while Gonzaga did not do anything to ensure media access to the court proceedings, the FFFJ said.
“The FFFJ condemns the ban on media coverage of the Ampatuan Massacre trial as an unconscionable attack on press freedom and to the imperative of keeping the public informed on the proceedings of a trial whose outcome will be critical to the dismantling or persistence of the culture of impunity,” the coalition said in a statement.
Prima Quinsayas, lawyer of the FFFJ, noted that the ban on media coverage started on the day that Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the primary suspects, was scheduled to present evidence for his bail petition.
“The malice that crops up to my mind – Why is it that when the defense was about to present their evidence, the reporters found themselves not allowed to cover the proceedings?” Quinsayas told Bulatlat.com in an interview.
“Now, more than ever, is transparency in the criminal justice system needed; one way of ensuring transparency is to allow a free press to function,” the FFFJ said in its three-page complaint.
Melinda Quintos de Jesus, FFFJ secretariat director and executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said the right to access information is protected by the Philippine Constitution.
De Jesus added that there is no reason for authorities to ban journalists from covering a very important case such as the Ampatuan massacre. She said Judge Jocelyn Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 has not prohibited any member of the media from covering the trial. The Supreme Court has allowed media coverage of the trial under certain conditions, the FFFJ said.
The coalition said PNP officials provided several reasons for disallowing media coverage. On Aug. 14, the police said the media had no vehicle stickers. On Sept. 17, the PNP Public Information Office (PNP PIO) reasoned out that the courtroom was full and it wanted to prevent Channel 2 from entering the courtroom and so, to be fair, it will not allow any reporter from any network to enter the courtroom. Then, on Oct. 1, the PNP PIO said the BJMP had not yet issued any guidelines for media coverage.
The FFFJ said the changing reasons for disallowing media coverage of a monumental case like the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre “are just excuses to cover up a clear violation of the people’s right to information and to a free press.”
De Jesus said that the November 23, 2009 massacre that claimed the lives of 58 individuals, including 32 journalists, is a case that is being monitored by the whole world.
“Rather than demonstrating the government’s sincerity in seeing the trial to a credible conclusion, the ban provokes suspicions that concealing vital information from the public is in progress,” the FFFJ said.
Quinsayas said the families of the Ampatuan massacre victims rely on the media to get updates on the case.
Other members of the FFFJ are the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the Philippine Center Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD), and the Philippine Press Institute (PPI).