Asia-Pacific journalists prod GMA on massacre
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Journalists from the Asia-Pacific prodded President Arroyo to ensure justice for their colleagues who were among 57 people massacred in Maguindanao on Nov. 23 last year.
In an open letter dated March 11, 29 journalists from 14 countries and economies in the Asia-Pacific who gathered in Jakarta last week expressed “deep concern” over the massacre and urged the President to take “concrete and positive steps to address the plight of journalists in the Philippines.”
“Their murder, and the death of countless other media workers in your country in recent years, will not be forgotten by us,” the journalists wrote. “We urge you, your government and institutions of the state to take the appropriate action to ensure justice is done and to create a better, safer environment for journalists in your country.”
The letter was coursed the other day through Press Secretary Crispulo Icban Jr., who promised to relay it to the President.
Of the 57 massacre victims whose remains have been recovered, 30 were journalists. At least one more is unaccounted for.
Those who signed the open letter were from Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.
They were in Jakarta for the second East Asia Regional Media Program sponsored by New Zealand and the European Union, with support from the Indonesian government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Meanwhile, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court has concluded the hearing on the petition of probable cause on the rebellion case against the Ampatuans stemming from the November massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao, principally blamed on the Ampatuan family and their supporters.
Quezon City RTC Branch 77 Judge Vivencio Baclig has ordered the termination of the hearing on the probable cause and the deferment of transfer of custody of the accused family members from Mindanao to Manila.
The hearing on the petition was terminated yesterday after government prosecutors and defense lawyers formally offered their evidence to the court.
Government prosecutors called to the witness stand Lt. Gen. Raymundo Ferrer, chief of the military’s Eastern Mindanao Command, to authenticate documentary and photo evidence pointing to the alleged rebellion staged by the Ampatuans in the province.
The accused led by family patriarch Andal Ampatuan Sr. allegedly led their supporters to stage a rebellion against the government to prevent other family members from being arrested over the massacre.
Former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan and his brothers, Sajid, Anwar and Akmad were also charged for rebellion.
Following the massacre, President Arroyo placed Maguindanao under martial law on Dec. 5 to allow the military to arrest the suspects and their followers.
Ferrer was the chief military implementor of military rule in the province.
On the witness stand, Ferrer attested that the photographs presented by the prosecution as evidence were taken on his orders.
He also declared the documents, including intelligence and operational reports, were made under his orders.
The photographs showed high-powered guns and ammunition allegedly buried by the Ampatuans and their supporters as well as photos of government buildings in Maguindanao that were allegedly padlocked on orders of the family.
The court also allowed defense lawyers led by Sigrid Fortun to present their evidence, despite the opposition of State Prosecutor Lamberto Fabros.
Fabros said the court should not have allowed the defense panel to present its evidence since it was a summary hearing for the judicial determination of probable cause.
Fortun, for his part, stressed that it was the defense panel which had requested the conduct of the hearing and as such, should be given equal opportunity to show the absence of probable cause.
Fortun said the accused Ampatuans could not be linked to an alleged rebellion, as photos taken by the military would show that guns and ammunition had been buried.
“The element of armed rebellion does not exist as arms were buried under the ground. No one can engage in an armed rebellion if the arms are buried,” he pointed out.
Fortun said the Ampatuans could not have been part of any rebellion as they have surrendered to the police and the military.
He added that if the accused had been part of a rebellion, they would not have sought protection from the courts.
Fortun claimed the police and the military had ordered all government offices in Maguindanao padlocked, not the Ampatuans as alleged by the prosecution.
Ferrer told reporters after the hearing that the militiamen of the Ampatuans have engaged in looting houses as part of their operations to retrieve buried or hidden arms.
“There is an ongoing uprising because they have not surrendered,” he said.
Ferrer estimates that there are at least 2,000 militia members loyal to the Ampatuans who have sought refuge in areas controlled by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. – Mike Frialde