Filipino journalists denied entry to Ampatuan Massacre trial in Quezon City

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) in strongly condemning the action by the Quezon City Jail in refusing entry to three journalists to the make-shift court where the trial for the 196 accused in the Ampatuan Massacre case is currently being held.

Journalists Mike Firalde, of The Philippine Star; Evan Orias, of Malaya; and Ces Drilon, of ABS-CBN, were refused entry to the makeshift court inside the Quezon City Jail Annex in Camp Bagong Diwa on Wednesday, September 17. The defence team was set to present their first witness for the hearing of bail petitions for the accused.

The three journalists were stopped on their arrival to the jail. After speaking with a public information officer of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (NJMP), they were confirmed to enter the court room. However, they were then followed by the same officer who then insisted they could not proceed and the journalists were then told to leave.

Initial inquiries to the court suggested the journalists were denied entry because the courtroom was too full to accommodate the press. However NUJP inquiries to the Quezon City Regional Trial Court revealed the media were denied access because the witness being presented was a minor, the 14-year-old daughter of former ARMM governor Zaldy Amaptuan. According to Section 22 of the Rules on Examination of a Child Witness, which the court was pertaining to it “Gives the court the prerogative to exclude all persons, including members of the press, who do not have a direct interest in the case, when minors are presented to the witness stand.”

Rupert Mangilit, General Secretary of the NUJP said “sensitive handling of minors considered”, this response by the court did not consider the fact that the media lost 32 of its members in the “gruesome carnage” of the Ampatuan massacre. Nor did it consider the public interest in the fact that government officials, police and soldiers accused in the case were supposed to serve and protect the journalists and others killed in the massacre in Maguindanao in November 2009. The massacre is the single largest execution of journalists in history.

“The public has a direct stake in the case? Don’t we have the right to know how the case is moving, if it actually does?” the NUJP’s Rupert Mangilit said.

The court incident happened the same day that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III was quoted during a Belgian visit, controversially suggesting the media was somehow to blame for the 2009 killings: “For instance, in the media killings, some who used to work in media died. Did they die because they were investigative journalists? Were they exercising their profession in a responsible manner, living up to journalist’s ethics? Or did they perish because of other reasons?”

The IFJ Asia Pacific Acting Director Jane Worthington said: “Banning journalists from entering the courtroom was a blatant attempt to withhold information and disregard media freedom in a case of global significance to journalists and the pursuit of justice for media killings. We ask the court, the government and security forces to ensure that press freedom is not jeopardised further during the ongoing trials.”

The IFJ again calls on President Aquino to ensure justice is soon delivered for the journalists killed. This year marks the 5th anniversary of the massacre and not a single killer has been successfully prosecuted.

“The Philippines sits grimly on top of the lists for impunity for a reason,” said Jane Worthington. “The figures speak for themselves and that is that the Philippines government under Aquino has so far failed in its duty and obligation to deliver justice for the brutal execution and mass burial of 32 journalists.” 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0946 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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