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Opinion

Assert your rights to prevent a Maguindanao massacre repeat

POINT OF VIEW - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

Thirteen years after the worst single attack on Philippine media freedom occurred in Ampatuan, Maguindanao del Sur, the public must fight all threats to the constitutional guarantees of free press and expression.

Filipino voters are the key to preventing this gross human rights violation and election-related violence from happening again.

The Maguindanao massacre claimed 58 lives. It ranks among the gravest insults to our democracy and perhaps the worst assault on freedom of the press in history.

While our legal team has secured convictions for 57 counts of murder for 44 individuals, the other 84 suspects remain at large.

The victims’ families have not received indemnification because the case is on appeal.

The citizenry and local media must assert their rights to comment, report and discuss matters of public interest because these are protected by the Bill of Rights under the 1987 Constitution and upheld by Philippine jurisprudence.

The Supreme Court ruling on the fair comment doctrine cited “the healthy efflorescence of public debate and opinion as shining linchpins of truly democratic societies.”

I also urge the electorate to be more circumspect when choosing public servants. Election violence continues to persist because some enterprising politicians treat local politics as a profit-making venture.

They single-mindedly seek elective posts to enrich themselves and thus may resort to extralegal killings and other forms of violence to eliminate threats to their interests.

The election-related massacre did not significantly change the political dynamics in Maguindanao del Norte and del Sur provinces. Only the names of elected officials have changed, but the local system remains the same.

The government, private sector or civil society should conduct public consciousness-raising activities which highlight the importance of media freedom, the constitutionality of free speech and legal orientation concerning humanitarian law.

In 2016, I sponsored House Bill 4502 to honor the 58 victims who perished in the massacre. The proposal sought to declare Nov. 23 of every year as the “national day of commemoration for all victims of extralegal killings.”

I also proposed the “Journalist Protection, Security and Benefits Act” under House Bill 0931. It aims to protect media professionals and workers from threats, intimidation and harassment in the workplace.

In 2019, the Quezon City Regional Trial Court found the masterminds and other primary suspects guilty of 57 counts of murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua without parole.

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Former congressman and presidential spokesman Harry Roque represented 19 of the 32 journalists and media workers killed in the Maguindanao massacre.

MAGUINDANAO MASSACRE

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