Letter to President Benigno S. Aquino III: Ampatuan Massacre – Why no action?

President

Benigno S. Aquino III

Malacañang Palace

1610 J.P Laurel St.

San Miguel

Manila, Philippines

Email: opsnews2004@gmail.com

 

November 23, 2012

 

Ampatuan Massacre – Why no action?

 

Dear President Aquino,

 

Three

years have passed since the massacre of 58 people including 32 of our

journalist colleagues near Ampatuan Town, Maguindanao.

 

You

will recall that shortly after your inauguration, on June 30 2010, we sent you

a 13-point action plan that we urged you to implement in order to meet your

election campaign promise to addressing the problem of impunity in the

Philippines.

 

We

must confess that, as representatives of the international community of

journalists, we are deeply disappointed at your lack of any meaningful action.

 

Today’s

anniversary of the massacre serves to remind us all of how little has been done

to bring justice for those who have been murdered and to end the decades-long

culture of impunity that continues to stalk the Philippines. The proceedings to

bring those responsible for the Ampatuan Massacre moving with extraordinary

slowness through the judicial system. Of the 196 accused, 93 are still at

large, one suspect has already died, only 76 have been arraigned, 55 accused

have filed a petition for bail, and none have been convicted. Three witnesses

have been killed.

 

It

is estimated that, at its current pace and with the number of motions filed by

the defence, the Ampatuan trial will take a minimum of 24 years before a result

is achieved – a mockery that insults the memory of the dead and seriously

questions the resolve of the authorities to see that justice is done.

 

During

your term as president, we have also seen a further 14 journalists murdered,

five this year alone (the most recent was the murder of reporter broadcaster

Julius Cauzo on November 8 in Cabanatuan City) as the culture of impunity

thrives and ensures that those in power feel safe in the knowledge that nothing

will ever stop them should they wish to forever silence journalists who are

merely doing their job.

 

We

wish to urge you to use this dread anniversary as an opportunity for a new

beginning, a broad government effort to ensure the Philippines turn a new page

and ends the impunity that has plagued your country for decades. We join our

colleagues in the Philippines in hoping for change and call on you to find the

resolve to make it happen.

 

With

that goal in mind, we once again ask you to consider the Action Plan to end

impunity submitted to your office by the  International Federation of

Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

(NUJP), (see the attached original

2010 letter or go to: http://asiapacific.ifj.org/en/articles/ifj-action-plan-for-president-aquino-to-end-impunity-in-the-philippines).

 

Under

United Nations Security Council

Resolution 1738 (2006), which requires governments to actively protect

journalists and media workers in areas of conflict within national borders, your

government is obliged to ensure the safety of media personnel as civilians.

 

With

this in mind, we again call on you to ensure your Government and police and

security forces act on their responsibilities to bring the perpetrators and instigators

of the November 23 atrocity to account, without further delay, and to act now

to end the culture of impunity that has plagued the Philippines for so long.

 

We

sympathise deeply with the families of the victims and our colleagues from the Philippines

journalism community, and trust you will do all in your power to assist them to

see justice is achieved.

 

Respectfully

Yours,

 

 

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Jacqueline

Park,

Director  

International

Federation of Journalists

Asia

Pacific                               


 

President Benigno S. Aquino III

Malacañang Palace

1610 J.P Laurel St.

San Miguel

Manila, Philippines

Email: opsnews2004@gmail.com

 

 

June 30, 2010

 

 

RE: Journalists’ Rights and Impunity in the Philippines

 

 

 

Dear President Aquino,

 

 

 

Congratulations on taking office today.

 

 

 

We write regarding the ongoing violations facing journalists

in the Philippines on the eve of your inauguration. We are saddened to learn

from our affiliate, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

(NUJP), of three murders of media personnel in recent weeks. The killings are

especially disturbing in consideration of the 32 journalists and media

personnel killed in the Ampatuan Town Massacre last November and the 140 media

personnel killed in your country since 1986.

 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ),

representing more than 600,000 members in 125 countries, has a long and close

working relationship with the media community in the Philippines, through the

work of the NUJP. In the Philippines, we promote the rights of professional

journalists, especially on issues of safety and press freedom. It is our view

that a robust and independent media sector is essential to democracy and

assurance of respect for universal human rights.

 

However, the long-running culture of impunity surrounding

the deaths and violent assaults and intimidation of Filipino journalists

pervades the Philippines, and is a significant impediment to the full

realisation of these rights.

 

With respect, the IFJ reminds the Government of the

Philippines of its obligations as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 12

August 1949 and to the 1997 Additional Protocol on the Protection of Victims of

Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) to ensure the protection of

journalists as civilians. Article 13 of Protocol II states: “The civilian

population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of

attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread

terror among the civilian population are prohibited.”

 

In addition, we draw your attention to United Nations

Security Council Resolution 1738, which was adopted in 2006 and stresses the

civilian status of journalists reporting in war zones and crisis areas within

national borders. The resolution stipulates: “… that all parties to an armed

conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under

international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict,

including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.”

 

Therefore, the Philippines Government is required by

international law to remedy the current situation and redress the past

injustices carried out against journalists. The recommendations that follow are

based on close engagement with local organisations and the findings of an

emergency mission the IFJ led in the immediate aftermath of the Ampatuan Town

Massacre.

 

These recommendations serve as indicators which will be used

by the IFJ and the NUJP, other international press freedom organisations, and

the international community to assess the progress of the Government of the

Philippines in meeting its responsibilities to protect journalists as civilians

and to ensure justice is done for past gross abuses of the rights of media

personnel.

 

1. Immediate prosecution of all perpetrators of the Ampatuan

Town Massacre in Maguindanao on 23 November 2009. The trial or trials must be

fully open and transparent so that the public may observe the proceedings

without hindrance. There is to be no political interference in any aspect of

the conduct of the cases.

 

2. The Government of the Philippines initiates immediately a

full and open investigation into the involvement of Filipino military, police

and government officials in the Ampatuan Town massacre. An independent and

impartial investigator, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of the

Philippines, is appointed to lead the inquiry. All appropriate resources, including

protection, are provided to ensure the investigator can do his/her work without

hindrance. The investigator’s final report is completed by 1 December 2010 and

tabled in the Congress.

 

3. The Government of the Philippines establishes an

independent commission with full judicial powers to call witnesses to publicly

inquire into repeated and ongoing instances of assaults, threats, intimidation,

abductions, illegal detention and murder of journalists in the Philippines, and

the reasons for the failure of authorities to take action against perpetrators.

The terms of reference will be devised in consultation with the National Union

of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission of the

Philippines and other media groups. The commission’s recommendations will be

made public and acted upon by the Government of the Philippines. The commission

will be established by 1 October 2010 and will report to Congress by 30 June

2011.

 

4. Noting that 140 media personnel have been murdered in the

Philippines since 1986, the Government of the Philippines in consultation with

the Department of Justice, the Philippines National Police together with the

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Freedom Fund for

Filipino Journalists, establishes an independent taskforce to implement

credible judicial proceedings, endorsed by the Human Rights Commission of the

Philippines and international legal experts, to fully investigate these cases

and conduct prosecutions. Action initiated by 1 October 2010. The task force

and proceedings will be funded by the Government of the Philippines. There will

be full public disclosure of all evidence and official records.

 

5. Any new attacks on media personnel and human rights

defenders (murder, assault, abduction, threats and intimidation) are

immediately and credibly investigated. Perpetrators are swiftly brought to

justice.

 

6. Where any new attacks on media personnel and human rights

defenders (murder, assault, abduction, threats and intimidation) are reasonably

suspected of links to state actors or associates, the Government of the

Philippines will direct that such actors be stood down from their positions

pending full and credible investigations. All information on such cases is

publicly available. Perpetrators are swiftly brought to justice. The IFJ, its

associates and other international organisations will closely monitor such

cases.

 

7. The Government of the Philippines will issue a

congressional statement in defence of the rights of journalists and the media,

recognising the Philippines’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions, the

Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United Nations Security Council

Resolution 1738 and acknowledging the vital role journalists play in

strengthening democracy by informing communities and scrutinising power.

 

8. The Government of the Philippines will legislate national

laws that enshrine the sentiments of the above congressional statement, with

specific reference to the Government’s commitment and responsibility to protect

and defend the rights of journalists and the media, in accordance with the

Geneva Conventions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and United

Nations Security Council Resolution 1738.

 

9. The Government of the Philippines provides financial

resources, with full transparency, to the families of all killed journalists

for legal support and ongoing trauma counselling.

 

10. The Government of the Philippines acts to ensure the

Freedom of Information Bill is passed by the Congress at the first sitting of

the new Congress.

 

11. The Government of the Philippines commits itself not to

pass any legislation or issue any executive order that will curtail press

freedom and freedom of expression, and it will move to decriminalise libel at

the first sitting of the new Congress.

 

12. The Government of the Philippines cooperates with the

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights Commission

of the Philippines and media owners to develop and implement a sustained

training program for police, military and government employees and elected

office holders on the rights of journalists pursuant to the above international

legal instruments. The program is fully resourced and activated by 1 December

2010.

 

13. The Government of the Philippines, in cooperation with

the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Human Rights

Commission of the Philippines and media owners, initiates and conducts a series

of public meetings in all provinces of the Philippines to raise awareness among

the broader public of the rights of journalists in serving the public interest,

and the Government’s commitment and responsibility to defend and uphold these

rights. The meetings will form the basis of a national public awareness

campaign in support of media freedom, democracy and human rights in the

Philippines.

 

Again, we respectfully request that you use your authority

as President to act on the grave concerns held by the IFJ and its affiliates

around the world for the welfare of our colleagues in the Philippines, in the

spirit of serving the best interests of all citizens of the Philippines.

 

Finally, the IFJ believes that media employers must commit

themselves to providing journalists, especially those in the provinces, with

fair treatment. Collective agreements between managements and workers in all

media organisations should be concluded to provide for stability, safety and

security in employment conditions. Structures of self-regulation and

accountability toward the media audience should be strengthened. The media

should aim to speak for all of the Philippines communities, rather than cater

to narrow constituencies and special interests.

 

 

Yours respectfully,

 

 

 

Aidan White

General Secretary, IFJ