IFJ Seeks Withdrawal of Contempt Claim in Philippines Massacre Case

The International

Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls for the immediate withdrawal of accusations

of contempt against a union leader and widow of a victim of the massacre of 58

people in the southern Philippines

on November 23, 2009.

 

“The IFJ is concerned that the

allegations against Rowena Paraan and

Monette Salaysay are being used to silence witnesses, advocates and families of

victims of the massacre,” IFJ Asia-Pacific

Director Jacqueline Park said.

 

The National

Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), an IFJ affiliate, urged press freedom

advocates and the families of the massacre victims to “remain steadfast” in

their quest for justice, as they gathered at a protest in Manila on May 23 to mark

18 months since the Ampatuan Town Massacre in Maguindanao, Mindanao.

 

The NUJP

rejects the contempt charges against its General Secretary, Rowena Paraan, and Monette Salaysay, whose husband

Napoleon was among 32 journalists and media workers murdered in the massacre.

 

They risk a jail term and financial

penalties if the contempt petition filed by the Philippines Court of Appeals on

April 12 is upheld.

 

“More than ever, there is a need to

remain vigilant on the conduct and proceedings of the [massacre] case amid

continued reports of threats against the victims’ families and legal manoeuvres

of the accused,” an NUJP statement

said.

 

“We will not be cowed into

surrendering our right to free expression for we cannot afford to be silent as

we monitor the progress of a case that is crucial … because its outcome may

well determine whether we can continue to consider ourselves a democracy, a

nation, a
people.”

 

It is unclear whether the petition

against Paraan and Salaysay was based on a submission by lawyers defending

massacre suspects, or initiated by the judiciary independently.

 

Lawyers representing Zaldy Ampatuan,

who are seeking to drop charges accusing him of being one of the main plotters

of the massacre, allege that comments made on March 2 and attributed to Paraan

and Salaysay prejudice their client.

 

The petition alleges the two women

foisted “bias and corruption upon members of the court” when they voiced

concerns about the slow process of the trials of massacre suspects.

 

However, the same concerns are

shared by Members of the House of Representatives in the Philippines, including

House SpeakerFeliciano Belmonte Jr, who vowed on May 23 “not to

forget and to do everything we can” to help resolve the case, according to GMA

News Online.

 

A public opinion poll conducted by Social

Weather Stations from May 4 to 7 also found that 51 percent of Filipinos

believe the massacre trials are progressing too slowly. The poll noted

increasing criticism of way the case is being handled by the administration of President

Benigno Aquino III, with respondents classifying the Government’s performance

as poor in all geographical and demographical categories.

 

“There is clearly broad public

sentiment in the Philippines

regarding a need to speed up the trials of the massacre suspects,” Park said.

 

“The people of the Philippines

have not forgotten that President Aquino made a public commitment before taking

office that he would ensure justice is served in this case.”

 

The contempt petition is similar in

tone to comments made by Zaldy Ampatuan in a newspaper advertisement published

nationally on March 23. The advertisement alleged public comments were

prejudicial to those accused of involvement in organising and committing the

massacre.

Ampatuan, who is

suspended from his post as governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

(ARMM), has filed a certiorari petition with the Court of Appeals in relation

to the charges against him.

His petition cites a

decision by Acting Justice Secretary Alberto Agra in April 2010 which found no

probable cause for Ampatuan to be considered a suspect in the massacre case. Agra later overturned the

decision following a public outcry by families of the massacre victims and press

freedom activists.

 

The trial of the suspects have

already been significantly stalled by repeated disruptions to proceedings,

including another contempt case filed against prosecutor Harry Roque, for

comments he made in a documentary film about the massacre.

 

The IFJ urges judicial and

government officials to condemn any efforts to obstruct the speedy and fair

trial of the massacre accused, and to ensure the focus of judicial actions remains

on the conduct of the actual trials.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +61 2 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

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IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

 

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