Journalists ask SC to allow live coverage of Ampatuan massacre promulgation

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Journalists ask SC to allow live coverage of Ampatuan massacre promulgation
Police investigators look for evidence next to a backhoe after a vehicle and human remains were dug up from a shallow grave in the town of Ampatuan, Maguindanao in a Nov. 25, 2009 file photo.
AFP, File

MANILA, Philippines — Journalists' groups and newsrooms are asking the Supreme Court to allow open and live coverage of the promulgation of the verdict in the Ampatuan massacre case, which will be announced two weeks from now.

After a 10-year trial, the promulgation of judgment will be done at Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan, Taguig City at 9 a.m. on December 19. 

In a letter, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism asked the high court to allow media organizations to conduct live coverage and streaming of the court ruling.

They also asked the SC to designate a specific area within the courtroom for reporters and camera crew to stay during the reading of the decision of Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221.

The groups said live coverage would allow the families of the 58 victims—32 of whom were media workers—to hear live the reading of the court’s decision on the killing of their relatives.

Aside from NUJP, CMFR and PCIJ, the following indicated support for the request:

  • Carol Arguillas, MindaNews
  • Ariel Sebellino, Philippine Press Institute
  • Jamela Alindogan, Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines
  • Abel Ulanday, Inquirer.net/Philippine Daily Inquirer
  • Amalia Cabusao, Mindanao Times
  • Camille Diola, Philstar.com and Interaksyon
  • Ed Lingao, journalist
  • Ellen Tordesillas, VERA Files
  • Ging Reyes, ABS-CBN
  • Herbie Gomez, Mindanao Gold Star Daily
  • Joyce Pañares, journalist
  • Luchi Cruz-Valdez, News5
  • Manny Mogato, freelance journalist
  • Maria Ressa, Rappler
  • Notre Dame Broadcasting Corp
  • Radyo ni Juan Network
  • The Mindanao Cross

Most victims' kin are in Mindanao

“The families of the victims are mostly based in General Santos City, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao. Not every family has the capacity to fly to Manila,” they said.

“The trial of the Ampatuan massacre has been followed by the families mostly through after-hearing reports and off-court broadcasts in the past years. It is now their hope that they be allowed to hear the decision simultaneously as it is read in court. The promulgation is the culmination of their fight for justice at the lower court,” they added.

The journalists' groups also said that the live streaming would allow the public to hear firsthand how Reyes would rule on the case and would boost the public’s trust on transparency and accountability of court processes.

The Ampatuan massacre is tagged as the Philippines’ worst case of election-related violence and the single deadliest attack on journalists in the Philippines.

NUJP and FOCAP earlier said they are expecting no less than a guilty verdict for the principal accused in the November 23, 2009 carnage.

‘No effect on substantive matters’

The media groups likewise stressed that live coverage would not be prejudicial to the rights of the 197 individuals allegedly involved in the grisly massacre as promulgation merely pertains to the reading of the judge’s verdict.

The principal accused in the case are brothers Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., Zaldy Ampatuan and Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan.

Covering or streaming the promulgation would also have no effect on the substantive matters, the organizations added.

“These matters would have already been decided by the court at the time of the promulgation and no longer under judicial considerations,” they said.

In 2011, the Supreme Court allowed the live coverage of the Ampatuan massacre trial subject to certain restrictions, which required media outlets to broadcast the court proceedings from start to finish without breaks and barred journalists from providing annotations while the hearing was ongoing.

But in 2012, the high court granted the motion for reconsideration of the Ampatuan camp. Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. argued that live media coverage would violate his right to due process.

The SC affirmed its ruling disallowing the live coverage of the Ampatuan Massacre trial in 2015.

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