Conference Rush

I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for an unprecedented seven lectures in a span of five days. The first three, two of which are done, is in the National University of Malaysia in Bangi, about an hour away from downtown Kuala Lumpur. The occasion here is the 6th Southeast Asia Teaching Seminar on International Humanitarian Law (SEATS) sponsored by the regional delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. I am now the longest running lecturer at this forum, having lectured at all six sessions of the seminar. This year’s batch has he most number of Filipinos attending: a faculty member each from the Philippine Military Academy, the Philippine National Police Academy and the Western Mindanao University; a journalist based in Koronadal, and a Committee Secretary at the House of Representatives.
My topics are “Challenges in the Implementation of IHL in Non-International Armed Conflicts” and “Counter-Terrorism Measures and IHL”. On the first, the issue revolves around how treaty obligations intended to protect mankind during armed conflicts can be made applicable to non-state actors. Here, I emphasized that the principles of protection and humane treatment, as well as the limitation on means and methods of warfare as stated in the principles of distinction, military necessity and proportionality have achieved the status of jus cogens, or non-derogable norms, and are hence applicable to both states and individuals.

The second was a longer and more lively discussion which examined recent decisions of the Supreme Court on whether the on-going “war against terror” is governed by IHL, a query which the US Supreme Court has answered affirmatively in these three cases, and on such other measures such as the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, “rendition” and targeted killings”, all of which are frowned upon by both international and domestic laws.

Later today, I will hold a public talk at the university itself on the topic of the “Role of National Courts in the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law”. There, Philippine Supreme Court decisions in such landmark cases such as Yamashita vs. Tyler and Kuroda vs. Jalandoni, which held that the rules and customs of war are binding on us even in the absence of local legislation, as well as David vs. Arroyo, the decision which declared former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s executive order calling upon the military and the police with xxx “acts of terrorism” as unconstitutional in the absence of a legislative definition of “terrorism”. This plays prominently with such prominent decisions of foreign courts such as In re: Pinochet, a decision which ruled that immunity cannot be raised as a defense for in prosecutions involving international crimes, and Paquete Habana, a US Supreme Court decision that also upheld the binding nature of a principle of IHL, the prohibition on the arrest of fishing vessels as prize of war, even in the absence of local US legislation.

Then I literally rush to the University of Malaya where the 3rd biennial conference of the Southeast Asia Media Legal defense Network (SEA MLDN) is being held. This is an organization of lawyers dedicated to defending journalists and media outlets, as well as to the promotion of the freedoms of expression and free press. Hopefully, I will arrive just on time for the opening panel, the country reports on the status of freedom of expression in the 10 Asean countries. My prognosis is that while freedom of expression and freedom of the press have greatly improved under President Aquino’s administration, it is still far from ideal. I will mention the continuing murder of journalists that have not seen the light of day in any courtroom, including that of the killing of Palawan-based broadcaster Gerry Ortega, the snail-paced trial of the Maguindanao massacre case that claimed the lives of 32 journalists and today described as the deadliest attack on journalists worldwide, as well as the IIRC recommendation to prosecute members of the media for their coverage of the Luneta hostage crisis.

I will also report that criminal libel continues to be used as an affront on press freedom highlighting the fact that while the former First Gentleman has ceased to file libel cases, it is now a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court that has developed the penchant for doing so. Furthermore, I will highlight disparaging remarks made by PNoy and his spokesperson against press freedom. PNoy has at least two of these remarks in his first year of office: a statement during the induction of the Ad Board to the effect that advertisers should not patronize media outlets that sensationalize the news, a remark which was reminiscent of President Erap’s call to movie producers boycott the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s entertainment section, and a complaint that media is not covering the gains of his administration and is instead focusing on his love life.

Marites Vitug, who has described PNoy as a “serial dater” is also attending the conference together with veteran reporter and columnist Ellen Tordesillas. There too will be a mention of the fact that PNoy reneged on his election promise to support the enactment of the freedom of information bill.

On the good news, I will report the Supreme Court decision allowing the live coverage of the Maguindanao massacre, a major triumph for the right to know, albeit clouded by the issued media guidelines—the subject of a pending motion for reconsideration.

Still later tonight, over dinner, I will discuss developments in the Maguindanao massacre case, including the recent machinations of Zaldy Ampatuan and his Palace backers. Later in the conference, I will lecture also on international remedies for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, an area where we have acquired a regional expertise. Finally, I will participate in a debate in support of the proposition that public figures do not have private lives.

Immediately when I get back, my UP office, the Institute of International Legal Studies of the UP Law Center will hold a two day “National Summit on the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the West Philippine Seas” on August 1 and 2. At least four members of the cabinet have confirmed their attendance. On 5 August, my Institute will also sponsor a public talk featuring Anwar Ibrahim on the topic “Rizal, Ninoy and Asian leadership”.

Talk about being busy!

ZALDY’S PLOY AND THE WPP: Lifetime in a safehouse

The last time I engaged a sitting Cabinet member into a word war, that is prior to this recent one, was when Justice Secretary Alberto Agra absolved Zaldy Ampatuan from liability in the Maguindanao massacre case. Prior to the Agra order of dismissal, there was unusual tension between the public prosecutors and us. I did not pay too much to the tension because I thought it was normal for bureaucrats to please their superior. Even colleagues in the ranks of the private prosecution went out of their way to please Agra. Nena Santos, on the Friday before the Sunday when Agra absolved Zaldy, went to Padre Faura with 26 of her clients, and pledged their full support and confidence to the then Secretary. But when d-day came, it was the public prosecutors that walked out first followed by Nena, the latter even claiming that huge amounts of money were involved in the decision. Vindication, I thought. To think, just days prior to the issuance of the order of dismissal, I was classified by both public and private prosecutors as their biggest headache. I hope to be equally vindicated in my most recent tussle with 2 Cabinet members.My belligerence then had good basis. Days after the November 23 massacre, we all saw the police, even aided by a back hoe, was contaminating a crime scene where no less than 58 victims were murdered in the most gruesome manner. We knew then too that the suspects were very well connected. As Lintang Bedol is now confirming, PGMA and Miguel Zubiri owe their election into public office not to the people who gave them a political mandate, but to the cheating machinery of the Ampatuans. Add to that the fact that the dreaded clan was an acknowledged ally of the state in the fight against Muslim insurgents, what you have is a sure recipe for impunity where government proved to be eager to white wash the investigation of the case. The 300 million that witness Lakmudin Saliao claimed the family distributed for this purpose, certainly came in handy.

If at all, we participated in the prosecution of the Maguindanao massacre fully aware that those in power then wanted a proceeding that would absolve a valuable political ally. We participated nonetheless hoping that with elections just around the comer, hope was forthcoming since PGMA, lest there be a failure of elections courtesy of SMARTMATIC, was disqualified to seek another term. And yes, change did take place with the unprecedented election victory of P Noy.

Then last week happened. On Monday,, two network stations broadcasted their earlier taped interviews with former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. Among others, he claimed that he has information that could convict his kin in the massacre. Meanwhile he maintained that he had no participation either in the planning or the execution of the massacre. His lawyer, Atty. Redempto Villanueva, on Tuesday, claimed in a TV talk show that his client wanted witness protection. Also on Tuesday, I was listening to the radio on my way to the Department of Justice when I heard DILG Secretary Robredo holding a press conference. He declared, “we should listen to what former ARMM Governor has to say”. Edwin Lacierda would later declare that the “doors of Malacañang is open to Zaldy”. Robredo would later admit linking Zaldy with the President.

Later in the evening of Tuesday, Lintang Bedol would also be interviewed on television. He claimed what we have known all along, especially those of us who filed three impeachment complaints against PGMA, that there was massive cheating in Maguindanao in the 2004 and 2007 elections. He called PGMA a “fake president” and alleged that Senator Migs Zubiri has no popular mandate. He narrated how the former First Gentleman ordered that the votes of PNoy, Ping Lacson, and Allan Peter Cayetano should be shaved in Maguindanao. In the interview, Atty. Krisitine Esguerra, counsel of Zaldy Ampatuan. was captured by the camera. This is proof that Zaldy arranged for the interview.

In my mind, it was clear: these interviews were meticulously arranged, scripted, as in fact, their broadcast was embargoed for two weeks, and all formed part of Zaldy’s plan.

Zaldy clearly wanted to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program for the murder cases. But when the door to this possibility was shut by the President himself, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima then declared that he could still qualify as a state witness for other crimes, such as for election sabotage.

Alarm bells rang. I had personal experience on how the WPP works. In the case of Boomar, our star witness in the murder case of Dr. Gerry Ortega of Palawan. A person admitted into the WPP shall have the right to “secure housing facility” until the threat to his life should have ceased. This means that Zaldy’s admission into the WPP for election sabotage, even in the event he is convicted in the murder case, would mean that he will never spend time in Muntinlupa for the 58 counts of murder. He would instead be in the custody of the WPP in that “secure housing facility”. Because of limitations in government resources, Zaldy himself could provide for his housing. Conceivably, by testifying on election sabotage and the plunder cases against his own family, Zaldy could spend the rest of his life in one of their many mansions secured by operatives from the WPP and drawing an allowance from the state for the rest of his life.

Brilliant ploy.


The moro-moro is back. It’s now playing in Malacañang and its lead star is Zaldy Ampatuan. It’s entitled: “give me immunity and I will tell you the truth”.First, there is the attempt to mislead. Zaldy Ampatuan, co-accused in 58 counts of murder in a massacre that has the notoriety of being attributed to his family name, says that all he wants is “to reveal the truth”. But because this may involve implicating his father and his siblings, he wants to be put in Witness Protection. And yes, according to him, he’s not for asking anything in return. True? Nope. Definitely false. By invoking the Witness Protection Program, Zaldy in effect, wants testimonial immunity for the massacre. This is because according to the law, all those who have been admitted into the Witness Protection Program (WPP) should no longer be charged by government prosecutors for the crime on which he will be testifying. Those already charged should be removed from the list of accused with the government prosecutors moving the court to withdraw the information against the admitted witness. What he should be asking for—if he is genuine and sincere in his effort to reveal the truth—is plain and simple police protection. But of course, in an effort to deceive the public, he mentions the program but claims he wants nothing in exchange.

Then he claims that while he had no participation whatsoever in the planning or the execution of the massacre, he nonetheless acquired information about the massacre after it had happened. This information apparently would prove the criminal culpability of his kin. Well, if this is indeed the case, then the more reason he should not be admitted into the WPP. This is because the WPP, like the Rules of Court on the discharge of an accused as a state witness, requires that the testimony of the person sought to be discharged should be indispensible. After, acquired information about the massacre simply will not fall in this category. In fact, Zaldy’s testimony, whatever it may be, is plain and simple, superfluous. Since he was not indicted as one of the participants in the actual massacre itself on 33 November 2009 but as a co- conspirator in the planning of the same, all that he could testify on are facts relating to the conspiracy. But the prosecution already has at least three witnesses to prove that conspiracy. There is Lakmudin Saliao, the household help who testified there were at least two meetings presided over by Andal Sr., wherein the clan planned the massacre. Saliao positively testified that Zaldy was present and actively participated in these two meetings. There is also the testimony of Kenny Dalagdag who, in addition to be being a participant in the actual shooting, also said in his sworn statement that Zaldy and his father were also present in these preparatory meetings. There are also the further testimonies of at least two policemen corroborating the details of the planning. This is why no less than Justice Secretary Leila De Lima has said that the prosecution no longer needs the testimony of Zaldy. Thanks but no thanks!

The truth of the matter is that the entire Ampatuan clan, and not just Zaldy, appears desperate to have one of them released. Why? For the obvious reason that with the patriarch and Zaldy both behind bars, the clan’s vast financial and political assets are in disarray. Unless one of them is released, and it may as well be Zaldy since he’s the only educated member of the clan, all their assets, including the frozen ones, may all come to naught.

The timing? Well, the Ampatuan name, apart from being synonymous with the massacre, is also notoriously linked to elections. So what better timing than now when the ARMM elections may just happen what with Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel’s petition in the Supreme Court questioning the law postponing the holding of the ARMM elections? It’s ironic the Pimentel’s petitioners include Pax Mangundadatu, PDP-Laban gubernatorial candidate for ARMM and uncle of some of the victims of the massacre.

Then the next intriguing issue: why is no less than the Palace involved in this mess? Note that when we, the people, only learned about Zaldys’ attempt to buy immunity when journalist Gil Cabacungan Jr., quoting Palace sources, wrote that the President already denied the request since it had too many conditions. My instinct then was: who on earth brought Zaldys’ concern to the Palace? Prosecuting the Ampatuan during the GMA administration would have been impossible because of acknowledged ties between Arroyo and the clan. But the Ampatuans apparently continue to be influential in PNoy’s Malacañang. They’re certainly influential enough to have his request for immunity brought directly to the attention of the President, even by-passing the Department Secretary who has jurisdiction over the matter: Secretary De Lima.  But there was the good secretary, searching for words, apparently kept in the dark when asked about Zaldy’s bid.

Well the dead rat is out. Secretary Edwin Lacierda, contemporary of Atty. Howard Calleja, Zaldy’s counsel at the Ateneo Law School, declared brazenly that the Palace remains open to Zaldy’s offer. Huh? But didn’t the Chief Executive already reject the said offer? Apparently not. This is why impunity persists in this country.

The moro-moro continues.

CCM’s Response to Lacierda and Leah Navarro

The Concerned Citizens Movement (CCM)  condemns in the  strongest possible terms the brazen meddling of Secretaries Edwin Lacierda and Jessie Robredo in the conduct of the Ampatuan massacre trial.

Lacierda and Robredo have not only usurped the powers of the Secretary of  Justice, they even had  the temerity to  contradict the DOJ Secretary on  a pending case that is  within the sole executive jurisdiction of the  DOJ.

The  DOJ Secretary and the  public and private prosecutors have been toiling everyday in the  Ampatuan cases for   almost  two years  now. They are the ones who  attend the trial,  listen to the witnesses, and view and assess all the pieces of evidence.  It is  them who can best assess whether  there is  worth, scheme, or guile  in the offer of Zaldy Ampatuan to turn state witness, and not  Lacierda and  Robredo.

It  was  the height of irresponsibility, a    very serious disservice to the President, and a shameless affront to the families of the  58 massacre victims  when  Lacierda  and Robredo brushed aside the DOJ Secretary and the prosecutors  and  facilitated  Zaldy Ampatuan to have access to the  President.

The  families of  the  58 victims  live in constant fear  for their lives in Mindanao even with Zaldy, Andal Sr., and Andal Jr.   in  jail. They know that the terror  network of the Ampatuans  remain intact.   Atty. Harry Roque has, at numerous times,   narrated  how his clients constantly  cower  in fear  because   strangers case  their  houses  asking  questions about them in their neighborhoods.

And here comes  Lacierda  and Robredo  advocating that the President  consider letting  Zaldy Ampatuan lose. Do Lacierda and Robredo even   think  about the security of the  families of the 58 victims in their  meddling move  to even consider  letting Zaldy Ampatuan  go free?  If the  families of the 58 victims  cower in fear now  when  Zaldy is in jail, how much more if  Zaldy is allowed  to  go free?

What  message  are Lacierda and Robredo sending to the  58  victim-families?  That the lives and security of the 50 victim-families are  expendable and tradeable?

And what about the witnesses who have testified or are  set to testify on the participation of  Zaldy Ampatuan in the massacre?  What  message   have Lacierda and Robredo   sent   to these crucial witnesses now?   Lacierda and Robredo have  virtually  put fear in the hearts of these  very crucial witnesses   because  this Zaldy Ampatuan whom they are  going to implicate  in the  crime of the century has the ears of the President, has  allies within the  President’s circles,   and that he  can go scot free because he has  tradeable information to barter for his  freedom.  These  witnesses  will now think  ten times whether to continue to testify against Zaldy,  or withdraw altogether as witnesses  or censor Zaldy out of their testimonies  for fear of  retribution if Zaldy is allowed to go scot free.

We  also strongly deplore the misinformation and  character  assassination  made  by Leah Navarro and  the Black and White Movement on one of or own,  Atty. Harry Roque.

Leah Navarro  criticizes Atty. Roque  for  supposedly “having a belligerent  attitude to the DOJ”  but omitting to mention that  such comment was  made  when Gloria Arroyo was still in power and  the  DOJ head was Secretary Agra  who   was the  first to make an attempt to  clear  Zaldy Ampatuan  of  criminal  liability. To have a  belligerent attitude  towards the GMA controlled  DOJ  at that time was a  courageous act and constitutes a badge of honor.

It is Leah  Navarro  and the Black and White Movement who must account for their gross  irresponsibility.  Having  taken over the reigns of power now, with all the  machinery and resources  to uncover  all the crimes committed  by the previous   administration at their disposal, all they  can come up with is a  plan to  trade the lives and  safety of the 58 families in exchange  for the crocodile tears of an Ampatuan.

It is  Leah Navarro and the Black and White Movement who have a belligerent attitude towards the families of the 58 victims. It is they  who are “in synch”  with Zaldy Ampatuan.  It is they who must account for their act of betrayal.










My Response to Edwin Lacierda’s tirades

Let me start by saying that the conduct of Secretary Lacierda yesterday, his resort to name calling, and gutter behavior is sad and lamentable. Secretary Lacierda should be reminded that when he speaks as a Presidential spokesperson, he does so on behalf of the President. His conduct and language did  not give dignity to the Office of The President.


At issue here is justice for the 58 families who lost their loved ones in the most gruesome manner last November 23, 2009. At issue here too is the 32 counts of affronts on press freedom since the killing of the 32 media victims of the massacre are separate affronts on the freedom of the press. At issue here is whether one of the masterminds in this massacre should be allowed to go scot free in exchange for information that would pin down GMA, but have nothing to do with the massacre itself.


When I singled out both Secretaries Robredo and Lacierda, I did so because of a firm conviction that a criminal suspect in the country’s worst massacre should not have access to the President of the land. There is a criminal prosecution where the state, through the DOJ, is acting as the prosecutor of the accused. What business do Robredo and Lacierda have in making contacts with the accused outside of the courtroom-where there already is a full-blown hearing pending in the courts? Worse, Zaldy Ampatuan still has to be arraigned because of the pendency of a petition with the Court of Appeals where he is still questioning his inclusion as an accused in the criminal case. Palace officials, especially Secretary Lacierda, himself a lawyer, should, know that anything that he says may have an impact on the on-going proceedings at the CA. Our worst fear is that the Justices of the CA may read Lacierda’s and Robredo’s actuations to mean that the Palace already considers Zaldy as an asset. This may affect their decision in the pending petition.


I stress furthermore that because of the pendency of the criminal case and the CA petition, no one in the palace, specially a spokesperson or the DILG Secretary, should take cognizance of this matter. This issue is within the jurisdiction of the DOJ because it is the only agency tasked both with the prosecution of the criminal case and in opposing the CA Petition.


We maintain that Zaldy’s recent antics and the information that he has been releasing forms part of a well-orchestrated campaign to exonerate Zaldy from the murder charges. Proof of this is the statement of Atty  Sigfrid Fortun, counsel for Andal Sr., that it was wrong for Justice Secretary Leila De Lima to reject Zaldy’s testimony before hearing what he has to say. This is not the conduct expected from the lawyer of a father about to be implicated by his son.


We also reiterate our concern that the Ampatuans may have regained their influence in Malacanang through Lacierda and Robredo. While we were in the dark on how the dreaded clan may have succeeded at penetrating the P Noy administration, the statement sand actuations of Lacierda now explains how this has happened. Lacierda should know that Zaldy precisely wants a bridge to the President only because he wants something in return for his exposes. It is naïve for anyone to think otherwise. Our position: Zaldy should speak the truth if he wants to.  But this should not have an impact on his culpability on the country’s worse massacre.