Statement of Professor Harry L. Roque, Jr. and the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) Philippines on allegation of bribery


CENTERLAW PRESS STATEMENT
Reference: Professor Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096

This current scandal has the sole purpose of destroying the prosecution and derailing the conviction of the Ampatuans. I will not fall into it. I will not allow myself to be used as a tool in this attempt to derail.

In this fight to bring justice to the 58 victims of the Ampatuan massacre, we are up against somebody who has all the resources to do everything to derail the case and prevent the conviction of the Ampatuans. We will not be derailed.

Since they came up with this story about bribes, I ask the police, the NBI, the Ombudsman, and the AMLA and all the proper authorities to resolve these accusations because this should not get in the way of our mission. Our mission is to bring justice to the massacred journalist and the other Ampatuan victims.

While investigation is being done, I will continue prosecuting the cases against the Ampatuans. This is for the cause of press freedom, this is for the mission. I want justice for the victims.

Our mission is to give the Ampatuan victims swift justice. People say that the trial will take more than 10 years to finish. We want justice now. This is our mission for the fallen journalists and the civilian victims of the massacre.

I expect more ploys to derail us, but I assure the victims that we will be steadfast in our mission and we will deliver the justice that the victims deserve. To the victims, we have a strong case, we will obtain convictions against the perpetrators of these dastardly crimes.

No conflict between Public and Private Prosecutors in Ampatuan Massacre Case: It’s a conflict between Attys Nena Santos ,Prima Quinsayas and everyone else Ref. Prof. H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096


“There’s no conflict between the public and private prosecutors in the Ampatuan massacre case. The conflict is between Attys Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas and everyone else”, this was the reaction of Prof. H. Harry L. Roque, Jr., private prosecutor for 15 media victims in the massacre.

Roque was reacting to the statement of Atty Nena Santos, counsel for Governor Toto Mangundadatu, that a conflict exists between the public and private prosecutors.

Atty Santos has been objecting to the action of the Public Prosecutors in resting its evidence versus 28 of the accused, including Andal Ampatuan Jr aka “Unsay “. Roque added: “We cannot join her in this objection because it was upon our instance that the Supreme Court allowed the system of “First in-First Out” that allows the prosecution to rest its case against some of the 194 accused without waiting for the presentation of the evidence against all of the accused. It was pursuant to this that the prosecutors partially rested its evidence against 28 of the accused.

Roque explained that this is without prejudice to the prosecution resting their evidence against Andal Sr and Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan when all pending incidents in the appellate courts are finally decided upon.

Roque explained that they moved the Regional Trial Court to adopt the “First in First out policy” so that there can be partial promulgation of judgment against some of the accused , hopefully including the Ampatuan patriarch and his two sons, before the end of the administration of President Noynoy Aquino. Roque declared: “for all the President’s fault, we know that he does not owe any debt of gratitude to the Ampatuans. We’re not sure the next President can claim this much”.

Roque, Chair of the Center for International Law (Centerlaw) filed a motion before the Regional Trial Court to adopt the :”First in First Out Policy’. This was denied by the Trial Court but later provided by the Supreme Court in its guidelines for the Trial of Ampatuan Massacre Case.

Scenarios for the accused


Now that it appears imminent that the Motion for Reconsideration from a finding of probable cause against “Tanda”, “Sexy” and “Pogi” would be dismissed, what are some of the likely scenarios that may happen soon?

First, on the issue of how the three Information will be heard by the Sandiganbayan, it is certain that these would be raffled separately since the three were indicted for separate acts, not as part of a conspiracy. Chances are that three separate divisions of the Sandiganbayan will then hear the cases separately.

Second, on the issue of detention, it appears that all three would respect the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan when and if it issues warrants of arrest against them. I predict all three would surrender. Nonetheless, as I have repeatedly complained, the rich and powerful are never detained in local jails and made to share a small cell with at least 39 other inmates. Instead, it is almost inevitable that they would be detained in special detention facilities. After all, even former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo agreed to have Senator Jinggoy Estrada detained in an office of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame. It is a foregone conclusion that all there senators may be housed in similar offices.

Former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, owing to his advanced age, should also have no problem getting a medical certificate attesting to an illness. He will probably get hospital arrest not only because of precedents, but also because of real health issues.

It is almost certain that all three accused would file motions to allow them to post bail to secure their arrest pending the hearing of their cases. The rule is that bail is a matter of right except in capital offenses where the evidence of guilt is strong.

I have written before about the innovations introduced by the Supreme Court en banc that now makes it mandatory for judges to rule on motions for bail expeditiously. Unlike, therefore, the Ampatuans who have been waiting for almost five years before a ruling could be made on their petitions for bail, it is now certain that the rulings on the three senators would be made anywhere from six months to a year.

What are the chances for the three to be granted bail?

Objectively, JPE appears to be certain to be granted bail since there is no direct testimony that he received money directly from Napoles, nor that be benefited from the allegedly malversed public funds. Jinggoy’s fate will depend exclusively on the weight that the Court will give to the lone testimony of Ruby Tuason. While she will testify that she personally delivered money to Sen. Jinggoy, her testimony is tenuous since she does not even know how much she delivered. Anent Senator Revilla, his fate will depend on the weight that the Court will give to handwriting experts who will testify that all the signatures purporting to be those of the senator are in fact forged.

I predict a 75 percent chance for bail for Enrile; and 50 percent chance of bail for both Estrada and Revilla.

In any case, all three accused are entitled to the presumption of innocence and it is the burden of the Special Prosecutors of the Office of the Ombudsman to prove that they are guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Given though that the Ombudsman has had a below-10 percent conviction rate, I doubt if any of the accused are really losing sleep over their cases.

Forgive me for being pessimistic. But if the prosecution for the gruesome murder of 58 people have been moving at a snail’s pace, how much more for a crime that does not involve murder?

The bottom-line is this: unless and until the five pillars of the country’s criminal justice system get their act together, no rich or powerful individual will be punished for their criminal acts.

***

I cannot help but admire the Vietnamese for the manner that they have been standing up to China. When the Chinese hosed their vessels, their vessels hosed them back, even if they were terribly outnumbered. And yes, I also admire the fury of its people. I am not condoning the senseless targeting of Chinese businesses in Vietnam, many of whom turned out to be Taiwanese-owned anyway. But the fact is ordinary people are infuriated at China’s expression and they have made their views widely known, especially by the policy makers in Beijing.

Will the Filipinos have the same fury as our Vietnamese brothers? Probably not. When China took control of Mischief Reef away from us, our leaders cried and whimpered but there was nothing heard from the general public.

Its high time that we Filipinos take the issue of our national territory personally. At stake after all, courtesy of the estimated 2 billion to 200 billion barrels of oil in the contested area, is the economic future of all our descendants.

The Vietnamese are correct: the West Philippine Sea is a personal issue to those being bullied.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/05/22/scenarios-for-the-accused/

World Press Freedom day


It was sad that the annual commemoration of the right that has enabled democracy to exist, freedom of the press, came and went without any form of commemoration in the Philippines. Not only that, instead of a fitting celebration, PNoy himself appeared to have belittled the value of a free press when he responded, on the occasion of Obama’s visit, that most of the victims of media killings are not “work related”.

Again, it was unfortunate that the killing of journalists, high up in the US State department’s list of concerns about the Philippines, took a back seat to the EDCA, which was the subject of intense pubic debate. But the President’s nonchalant way of dismissing media killings as “non- work” related, deserves equal condemnation as the one-sided and Anti-Filipino EDCA.

To begin with, the President’s remarks reflects  ignorance on how the human rights community perceives media killing. This is hardly surprising given his ignorance too of the law on state responsibility when he adamantly refused to take responsibility for the Hong Kong tourists massacre and the killing of the Taiwanese fisherman off Batanes. While ordinary mortals can, perhaps, be forgiven for their ignorance, PNoy is President and should have known better.

His view is opposite to the view expressed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Frank La Rue, who has long said that the killing of journalists is prima facie work related. This is because it’s simply unworkable to distinguish between the official role of journalists from their personal lives. Journalists, like priests, lawyers, or any other professional, should practice in their every day life the ideals and high standards dictated by the practice of their profession. Journalists are responsible for contributing inputs in the free market place of ideas. Their inputs are then used by the public in assessing the truth and in forming their opinions. This is why their roles are crucial in a democracy Without a free market place of ideas; we do not know what the truth is. Without a market place of ideas, there will be no debates on what the truth is.

This is why journalists are targeted in the first place. The killing of journalists is the ultimate form of censorship imposed by those who fear the truth. The fact that we are the most murderous country in the world for journalists reflects the prevalence of the worse form of censorship. PNoy’s justification that they are not work-related adds ignominy to the killings because the state, which is duty bound to put an end to these killings, is instead justifying them.

Does it make it any less worrisome if these killings are in fact not work related? Certainly not. The duty of the Philippines under human rights law is to protect and promote the right to life. The killings of journalists add ignominy to the breach of the right to life. The fact that the victims may not have been killed because of their profession does not make the killings any less a breach of an international obligation.

In any case, the President’s declaration also highlights his administration’s lack of political will to address these killings. The fact that the administration’s point to the Ampatuan prosecution as proof of its  discharge of duties is a cause for alarm. Five years after the gruesome murder, no has been punished for it. The Ampatuan massacre therefore, contrary to the Palace claim, is further proof of breach of the same obligation. It is testament to his administrations failure to accord the victims an adequate remedy under domestic law, which should be just and expeditious.

Vergel Santos was right. What can  we expect from a President who prior to his assumption of office- never held a real job. The Presidency requires extensive work experience and the wisdom derived from it. This President has neither the experience nor the wisdom for the job.

Meanwhile the killings continue. Just yesterday, we had the 27th victim of media killings under PNoy. At the rate journalists are being killed, they will soon be a rarity in our society.

It is crystal clear that under this administration, Press Freedom cannot be celebrated. We can only mourn for every journalist that is killed. There’s bound to be a lot more of them with the prevailing sense of impunity.

This article first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/05/08/world-press-freedom-day/

Human rights highlights in 2013


imagesThis will be an annual tradition. For as long as I have a column to write, I will devote my first column of the year to a summary of the highlights for human rights in the Philippines.

For the year 2013, here are what I consider the highlights:

1. The detention and maltreatment of Tausug Filipinos on a mission to reclaim Sabah. First on my list is the maltreatment suffered by the Filipinos as a consequence of the decision of Sultan Jamalul Kiram of the Sultanate of Sulu to reclaim Sabah. Not only is the Sultanate’s title as clear as the light of day. The arbitrary arrest of Filipinos, which really was a witch hunt, coupled with the disproportionate use of force employed by the federation of Malaysia, and the arrest of journalists from ABS-CBN, GMA and Al Jazeera covering the event, highlight the sorry state of human rights in the Southeast Asian region. I highlighted this event because it should be taken as a reason for our own state to comply with the letter and spirit of human rights law: do not do to others what you do not want to be done to your own people;

2. The challenge to the 2012 Cybercrimes Prevention Law. Not since the first quarter storm and the 1986 people power revolution have we seen the youth of this country united in their opposition against an Orwellian attempt to infringe on freedom of expression in the medium intended to institutionalize the free market place of ideas. What is noteworthy is not just the petitions filed against the law, but the use of the Internet as a medium for protest. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the legality of the law, the fact is the youth have rediscovered activism in a new medium—in cyberspace.

3. The Palace position that it would not pay compensation to victims of the Ampatuan Massacre. The year 2013 was the year when the PNoy administration made clear its position that it would not pay compensation to the victims of the Ampatuan massacre. This is clearly a breach of the state obligation under human rights law to provide compensation to victims of violations of the right to life. Independent of the guilt of the accused in the pending criminal cases against the Ampatuans and their cohorts, the state has the obligation to pay compensation to those whose loved ones were killed by state agents despite the state’s obligation to protect and promote the victims right to life.

4. The Philippine position not to support UN Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. Alleging that neutrality to the ongoing systematic attacks perpetrated by the Assad regime against its civilian population was the best means to protect Filipinos in Syria, the Philippine government declined to support any UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning the attacks against civilians in Syria. In adopting this position of neutrality, Filipino policy makers assumed that bullets used by the Assad regime could distinguish between a Syrian and a Filipino worker in Syria. Clearly, the duty to protect our nationals in troubled spots like Syria requires our government to support all initiatives to uphold and promote both human rights and humanitarian law in these troubled lands. This, in fact, is the only means that we can ensure that our diaspora do not fall victim to rampant and systematic human rights violations;

5. Indiscriminate violation of International Humanitarian Law in the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, IHL, as the law applicable in armed conflicts, found additional application as a result of the Zamboanga siege. Regrettably, both the MNLF and the AFP were noted to have committed grave breaches of the law which is accepted by all countries in this planet as being non-derogable. Both parties to the conflict were observed to have been guilty of indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations.

The AFP order to indiscriminately detain individuals who cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer as possible MNLF members deserves special mention as this violates both the right of the people to be secure in their persons and the right of the people to liberty;

6. The Supreme Court decisions invalidating the PDAF, the Presidential Social Fund and Illegal Disbursement of the Malampaya funds. The decision declaring the pork barrel expenditures as unconstitutional impacts on human rights because hopefully, government funds could now be used to discharge the state obligation to take progressive steps in the realization of economic, social, cultural and economic rights. Hopefully, the hundreds of billions in taxpayers money which used to go to the pockets of our corrupt politicians can now be used to give realization to such basic rights such as the right to food, water, housing, and public health;

7. Finally, the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law. This was a big blow to the right of the people to heath, the right of privacy, the right to make very personal decisions such as the number of offsprings that spouses would want, and the right of women to non-discrimination.

I hope that 2014 will usher in both a Happy New Year to all and better compliance with human rights and humanitarian law in the Philippines.

Centerlaw’s statement on SC’s new guidelines on the Ampatuan massacre trial


We commend the Supreme Court for issuing new guidelines on the Ampatuan trial. These guidelines show that the Court also finds the status quo as being unacceptable. We are happy that the court granted our first in first out proposal, or that the lower court should issue partial promulgation as to some accused who have terminated with presentation of evidence without having to await termination of presentation of evidence for all theaccused. We proposed this to Judge Reyes but it was rejected. We welcome too the designation of an additional judge and the use of affidavits in lieu of direct testimony. We see these innovations as possible reasons why the trial of the case may finish within the term of P Noy.

The judiciary has done what it can do within its realm. We await the inputs from the executive on its initiatives on the prosecution of the case and the issue of compensation to the victims.

The Center for International Law (Centerlaw) represents the families of 15 of the 58 victims of the Maguindanao massacre in the ongoing criminal case. Centerlaw works closely with the government prosecution panel. Centerlaw is chaired by Atty. Harry L. Roque, Jr.

Statement of Center for International Law (Centerlaw) on Pres. Noynoy Aquino’s SONA


It was very sad that President Noynoy Aquino, for the first time in his SONA, did not have anything to say about the Maguindanao Massacre. As Chief Executive, it is still his duty to prosecute and cause the punishment of the perpetrators of the massacre.

We are also hoping that with recent information that some of the victims almost entered into a compromise with the Ampatuan, the President will squarely address the issue of compensation to be given to the victims of the single most murderous attack against journalists in history.

The President’s failure to state how he intend to finish the prosecution of the massacre case points to a lack of political will to punish those who will violate freedom of the press and the right to life.

Atty.  Harry L. Roque, Jr.
Chairman of Centerlaw and counsel for the families of 15 victims