Crimes and unpunishment/Bam Aquino, top leader

FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas - The Philippine Star

Philippine mass media just commemorated the third anniversary of the massacre on Nov. 23, 2009 of 32 media workers, along with 27 other civilians, in Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

This  fateful day has become the single worst attack on the Philippine press, prompting the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) to designate Nov. 23 of every year as International Day to End Impunity, a reminder to everyone that it should never happen again.

These 32 media workers were all from Mindanao and only the most recent cases of killings of Filipino journalists. They are featured in a landmark book, Crimes and Unpunishment (2012), published by UNESCO and the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC), and edited by Florangel R. Braid, Crispin C. Maslog and Ramon T. Tuazon.

The book documents the major crimes against Filipino journalists since 1986. Since then a total of 125 journalists have been killed in the line of duty, according to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, giving the country the dubious distinction of becoming “the second most dangerous country in the world, next to Iraq.” The book also documents the “unpunish-ment” of the killers of these journalists.

The book will be launched on Dec. 7 at the Annunciation Hall, St. Mary’s College, Mother Ignacia Ave., Quezon City, at 11 a.m. It will be held in conjunction with the Annual Philippine Communication Society Conference. Dr. Maslog will give a talk on the highlights of the book for 15-20 minutes. The launch is the feature of a Philippine Press Institute-PCS seminar on Journalism Excellence and Ethics. The book can be ordered through AIJC, through tels. (02) 7244564 and (02) 7454227.

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The story on the late editor-publisher Jacobo Amatong is written by Dr. Cris Maslog, a former journalist with the Agence France-Presse and director, Silliman School of Journalism. A consultant of the AIJ, he is one of the editors of the book Crimes and Unpunishment. Below is an excerpt of his story on Amatong.

Jacobo Amatong: Slain journalist awaits justice By CRIS C. MASLOG

“Jacobo Amatong stood up to denounce military abuses in Zamboanga del Norte at a time when it was foolish to do so, because it was at the height of martial law. Because of his guts, his paper earned a reputation as a fearless, crusading community newspaper in that part of the country — and he paid the supreme price, his life.

“The paper was a crusader against government corruption and military abuses and a champion of human rights. On Sept. 23, 1984, after nine years of running the paper, Jacobo was murdered for his exposes of human rights violation by the military.

“Jacobo was with his comrade in arms in the human rights movement, Zorro C. Aguilar, that night of Sept. 23. They were ambushed as they neared the home of Jacobo. Zorro died on the spot. Kubo was taken to the hospital where he expired six hours later.

“A friend of the slain publisher-editor, who reportedly has connections in the Armed Forces intelligence, told the Mindanao Observer an undercover operative leaked him the information linking the military to the cold-blooded murder of Amatong and Aguilar.

“Amatong’s murder put the Observer in the limelight. But the response of readers was fear. The people were afraid to buy the paper because it carried stories on investigations, ambuscades and military atrocities.The military presence was strong in Dipolog City. Even the local advertisers got scared and shunned the paper. It was only in 1986, after the ouster of Marcos, that the Observer began to recover.

“Undaunted by the risks involved, the Observer ran a banner story on the Amatong-Aguilar case in its October 8, 1984 issue with the bold headline, Slay of editor, lawyer, an army plot? The story read: ‘Confidential police sources said there was a great possibility that the killing was deliberately carried out in order to prevent Amatong and Aguilar from embarking on a fact-finding mission on the salvage of Ramon Sagusay and Jorge Chica in Tampilisan, Zamboanga del Norte.’

“As a constant reminder to the people concerned with the case and to the local public in general, the paper ran a count of the days during which the murder remained unsolved. The count appeared on the right ear of the paper’s front page.

“Through the crusade of the paper and with the active cooperation of the public, the principal suspect, Army Lt. Wilson Caledo, then assigned to the 44th Infantry Battalion stationed in Anastacio, Polanco, Zamboanga del Norte, was identified.

“Other suspects, however, were not yet known. As a response to public pressure, whipped up by the Observer, the Armed Forces of the Philippines created a military tribunal to try the murder case.

On formal appeals of the lawyers and prominent citizens in the province, President Corazon Aquino, as AFP commander-in-chief, agreed to transfer the case to the civilian court. The trial of the case was at first scheduled June 24, 1987, in Fort  Bonifacio in Metro Manila, but was postponed indefinitely in view of the presidential waiver. The report said the trial of the case would be held in Dipolog City.

“The suspects, meanwhile, were detained in the stockade at Fort Bonifacio while awaiting trial by the civil court. The suspects were expected to be transferred to the Dipolog City Jail while the case was tried, since the charge of murder is a ca“As of October 6, 2012, as this is being written 25 years later, the military has not remanded the records of the case to the civil courts in Dipolog City as instructed by former President Corazon Aquino.

“ The son of former President Corazon Aquino is now the new president. President Corazon Aquino and the lawyer of the Amatong family have died and nobody knows what happened to the suspects detained in Fort Bonifacio. Isagani, the brother of Jacobo, became governor of Zamboanga del Norte. The Amatong family, however, after repeated attempts to have the trial transferred to their province, finally gave up. This is how slow the wheels of justice grind in this country. ”

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 Two Filipinos have been awarded among Ten Outstanding Young Persons of the World. They are Benigno “Bam” Aquino, and Dr. Edsel Maurice Salvaña who were chosen from a field of 115 entries coming from 37 countries. The y join the illustrious list of TOYPs, which includes John F. Kennedy, Nelson Rockefeller, and Jesse Robredo.

An annual project of the Junior Chamber International (JCI), the TOYP program honors men and women who have made significant contributions to society by inspiring and empowering those who have less in life to have a more meaningful existence.

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, TOYP, which was originally developed by Durwood Howes, president of the US Junior Chamber of Commerce (1930-31), was officially adopted by the JCI World Congress in Taipei in 1983. Over the past three decades, ceremonies have been held all over the globe.

Bam Aquino was cited for business, economic and/or entrepreneurial accomplishment, and Dr. Salvaña for humanitarian and/or voluntary leadership.

In 2006, Bam and business partner Mark Ruiz founded Hapinoy, a micro-financing scheme to train impoverished women , give them capital, and help them look for markets. Aquino is committed to helping the youth become productive members of society, and addressing poverty by giving people access to small but sustainable businesses._          Dr. Salvaña, gave up a lucrative medical practice in the United States and joined the government’s Balik Scientist program. He teaches medicine at the Philippine General Hospital under the University of the Philippines. He is a staunch advocate of combating the HIV disease.

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