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.
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.
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
“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
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
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
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
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.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +61 2 9333 0919
represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries
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