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‘Journalists not barred from covering massacre trial’

MANILA, Philippines - The Quezon City judge handling the Maguindanao massacre trial yesterday said journalists are not barred from covering the court proceedings at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig.

Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 told The STAR that the court proceedings have always been open to the public.

She made the clarification after police and jail officials banned journalists from attending the massacre trial.

Solis-Reyes said the court has not changed its rules when it comes to media coverage, adding that journalists are allowed to attend the hearings provided that they only take notes using pen and paper.

She said only the live broadcast of the trial is prohibited based on a 2012 Supreme Court (SC) ruling.

On Tuesday, the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists  (FFFJ) filed a case against officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) before the Office of the Ombudsman for barring journalists from attending the hearings.

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Named respondents were Chief Superintendent Theodore Sindac and Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor, former and current PNP spokesman, respectively,  and Quezon City jail annex warden Senior Inspector Lloyd Gonzaga.

According to the complaint, PNP personnel assigned at Camp Bagong Diwa started barring media from attending the court hearings in August.

In a series of tweets in September, ABS-CBN reporter Ces Drilon said changes in the rules regarding media coverage remained unclear even after coordination with the BJMP.

She said journalists were barred from covering the trial after she released a report on the alleged smuggling of a gun inside the jail premises.

On Sept. 17, when the defense was scheduled to present its first witness in the bail petition of accused Zaldy Ampatuan, reporters from The STAR and Malaya were prevented by the police from covering the trial.

According to FFFJ, police and jail officials have given various reasons for not allowing media from attending the hearings.

Mayor, in a Rappler report, supposedly said access to the hearing was “subject to the restriction of the court.”

But Solis-Reyes said the only restriction for those who wish to observe the trial – whether journalists or not – is that they are not allowed to bring gadgets into the courtroom.

No live coverage

The SC has not issued a ruling stopping journalists from covering the Maguindanao massacre trial. The only ban at the moment is the live coverage of the trial based on the Oct. 23, 2012 resolution, which is under appeal.

The high court banned the live media broadcast of the trial but allowed the filming of the proceedings for real-time transmission and documentation, SC clerk of court Enriqueta Vidal said.

The resolution partly favored an appeal of Andal Ampatuan Jr., who said the live coverage of the trial deprived him of his “right to due process, equal protection, presumption of innocence and to be shielded from degrading psychological punishment.”

President Aquino, through former solicitor general and now SC Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, had asked the high tribunal to reconsider its decision.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is also asking the SC to set aside its 2012 resolution.

No ruling has been made on the motions for reconsideration.

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