Re-examining freedom of expression


I have been the foremost advocate for freedom of expression, at least in the legal profession. I have always said that this freedom is ever important for it enables us to know the truth. It also enables us to form opinions, which taken collectively, have been proven in fiscalizing governments. For instance, we now know that the PDAF and DAP were never intended to benefit our people. They have been intended and used to further enrich our corrupt officials. If anything, the investigative work of journalists on PDAF and DAP has shown how crucial a vibrant press is in informing our people and in keeping our government in line.

But I have had to re-examine my advocacy for freedom of expression recently. This is because have had to reckon with the ugly side of the terrain: irresponsible journalism.

Note that days after my fellow private prosecutor in the Maguindanao massacre case, Nena Santos, claimed that Department of Justice officials were purportedly accepting bribes from the accused, the witness, Lakmudin Saliao, who, even if purportedly under the government’s Witness Protection Program, is actually under the custody of Governor Toto Mangudadatu; spoke to media, This was obviously arranged by Nena Santos herself. Purportedly the “smoking gun” to prove her allegations of bribery, Saliao then related that when he was still under the employ of the Ampatuans, he gave Atty Sigfrid Fortun the amount of P50 million, 20 million of which was to be paid to Undersecretary Francisco Baraan, and the balance of P30 million to be paid to the rest of the public prosecutors.

In the mind of Santos, this disclosure proved that Baraan was indeed on the take. The only problem was that Saliao, as one of the government’s star witnesses in the Ampatuan trial itself, was testifying on matters which occurred in 2009 and 2010 prior to the PNoy administration. Baraan only joined government as part of the PNoy administration. Hence, contrary to what Saliao is saying, Baraan could not have received P20 million since he was not yet in government at the time of the alleged payoff.

So when Ces Orena-Drilon came to my temporary office in the UP College of Law to show me a PDF file of an alleged diary listing personalities which she concluded were lists of individuals having received money form the Ampatuans, my remark to her was: “Ces, you’re the only one who still believes Nena Santos.” It was at that juncture that Ces then said that her informant was different from Nena Santos although she admitted that she met this informant through Nena Santos. Nena would later lie on national televisions and say that she does not know the informant.

I even explained to her that Nena was obviously on the warpath after she was found lying. But Ces was persistent. She then showed me an entry of a phone number, which corresponded to mine -next to the word “speedy”. Another entry had the notation “Speedy 10 M and a car”.

Asked for my reaction, I first explained that the since the diary was provided by an informant who did not prepare the diary, the same was not authenticated. I then said that while the number corresponds to my cell phone, my number is a very public number since it appears in all my press releases, my blog and FB entries, I do not know any “speedy” and do not know why it appears next to my number.

But lo and behold, in the newscast for that evening, it was reported that I received P10 million and a car since I was using the alias “Speedy”.

I am sure that those who know me will not believe this allegation. How do you explain the fact that unlike Nena Santos who has not presented a single witness in the Ampatuan prosecution, we have not only been active in presenting our witnesses (about 35) in the massacre case itself but have field 23 other actions against the Ampatuans? This included the plunder case against the Ampatuans, actions to freeze their assets with the Anti-Money Laundering Council, a separate civil case against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her complicity in the murder, separate criminal charges against the military officials in the area and international remedies for the victims. And unlike Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas who are paid for their services, we have been doing our work against the Ampatuans on a pro-bono basis. It is strange that I – who have been working for free in these cases for five long years -was the one maligned as having received money from the same individuals who have in turn, sued me at least 14 times either in the form of contempt petitions or libel in their turf of Cotabato City.

Today, I am in the process of re-examining my advocacy for freedom of expression. I represent today the most number of journalists accused of libel and other families of journalists who have been killed and have not been accorded domestic remedies for their murders. We also continue our advocacy to decriminalize libel. But when a very senior journalist, a graduate of the same state university where I am a full professor, resorts to abuse of the right to a free press, one cannot wonder now if my lifelong passion in defending this freedom is indeed a noble pursuit.

I continue to dwell on it.

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/08/14/re-examining-freedom-of-expression/

Centerlaw Statement on the Maguindanao Massacre Prosecution


Centerlaw supports the public prosecutors in their decision to rest the case against the 28 accused last March 4. Centerlaw, an affiliate of Media Legal Defence – Southeast Asia, represents families of 13 media victims and 2 other civilian victims. With this decision to rest, the prosecution panel has completed its role in presenting evidence against the accused, and the case can move on to the next stage, with the defense presenting their evidence.

According to Centerlaw Chairperson Harry Roque, “With a panel this large, and with all the pressure that goes with prosecuting the “Trial of the Century”, it is to be expected that there will be differences in opinions, theories and strategies. We would like to assure the public that whatever issues there may be within the panel, everyone’s goal is the same: to ensure the conviction of those accused of murdering 58 people.”

Private Prosecutor Gilbert Andres adds, “We fully support the DOJ prosecution panel. The members are doing everything within their power to get a conviction in this case. We enjoin other private prosecutors to submit their constructive suggestions on how to hasten the proceedings. We cannot afford to have a third change of panels. We welcome the decision to rest the case as this means that we can even have an early verdict against one of the principal accused – Andal Ampatuan, Jr.”

The recent Memorandum from the Supreme Court approved Centerlaw’s proposals to expedite the trial, among them “First in, First out”. This will allow Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes to decide the case against the accused as soon as the evidence presentation is finished against them, which will hasten the proceedings. Among the 28 accused whose cases have been rested is Andal Ampatuan, Jr., an alleged mastermind and shooter during the massacre.

Centerlaw further confirms that during a meeting held in January 2014, the public and private prosecutors had discussed the impending resting of the case against some of the accused. #

The Massacre Victims of Luneta and Maguindanao


The victims of the Luneta massacre —Chinese tourists from Hong Kong —and the victims of the Maguindanao massacre have much in common. Both were victims of multiple murders at the hands of state agents. The Luneta Hong tourists died in the hands of Rolando Mendoza and the inept PNP members, many of whom also shot and killed them. The Maguindanao massacre victims were killed by suspects, all of whom are government agents—from elected officials to state multipliers such as the civilan volunteer organizations (CVOs) and the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGUs).

Both sets of victims have been waiting for a long time for justice. In the case of the Luneta hostages, their plight is slightly worse off because no one at all has been charged for the killings. The Maguindanao victims, on the other hand, stand to wait hundred sof years for justice given that four years later, more than 80 of the suspected perpetrators still have to be arrested.

Further, while all of them are victims of violations of the right to life, not one of them has received satisfaction in the form of an apology from the state. Neither has any of them received compensation from the state.

President Aquino and his cohorts have offered identical reasons why the Philippine government has not and will not apologize nor pay compensation to them. In the case of the Luneta victims, its is because Mendoza—not Mendoza – was solely at fault. In the case of the Maguinadanao massacre, it is because it was former President Gloria Arroyo and her allies at fault, and not the Aquino administration.

The President’s refusal to both apologize and pay compensation to all victims of the violation of the right to life is a continuing breach of international human rights law. Under the articles of state responsibility, a state incurs responsibility for an internationally wrongful act when it breaches a norm of international law and when it is committed by a person whose acts may be attributable to the state. Both of these elements are found in the Luneta and the Maguindanao massacres.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, states have the duty to protect and promote, among others, the right to life of their people. This is a guarantee against the arbitrary taking of life. But since the Philippines no longer has the death penalty, all killings are hence unlawful in the Philippines. The only question to invoke international responsibility for these killings is this: Who perpetrated them? If it is through a state agent or a private person acting upon orders or control of the state, then the state will be in breach of the obligation anent the right to life.

It is crystal clear that the killers in both massacres are state agents. Mendoza was with the PNP, albeit then suspended, while the rest of the bullets were “friendly fire” from other PNP officers. Meanwhile, the fiasco that led to the firefight, including the decision not to take down Mendoza earlier and to use force belatedly were formulated by other state agents. For this decision, a committee headed by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima recommended that criminal charges be filed against those who formulated the botched policy. Those recommended to be charged included then-Mayor Alfredo Lim, then-PNP General Jesus Versoza, and then-DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno. Strangely enough, until today, none of these individuals have been charged for anything.

In the case of the Maguindanao massacre, there can be no doubt that while the criminal cases against the suspected murderers are still on-going, all of those charged for the multiple murder are all state agents. There were two governors: of ARMMM and Maguindanao, mayors, vice-mayors, military men, and members again of the PNP. There too were CVOs and CAFGUs whose members are auxiliary members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines as force multipliers. In fact, although these paramilitary groups consist of members of a private army, they were nonetheless conferred the status of state agents by reason of an Executive Order issued by Mrs. Arroyo which, until now, remains in force.

But where do the victims differ?

Their nationalities. And boy, this makes a hell of a big difference.

The Luneta massacre victims are of course Hong Kong residents and nationals of China. The Maguindanao massacre victims are all Filipinos. This means that while the Luneta victims can expect their rights to be espoused by their state, the Maguindanao massacre victims cannot look forward to any support from their own state. True, the latter’s criminal cases have been prosecuted in the name of the Republic by public prosecutors. Big deal. Every single one of the victims has their own private prosecutors anyway. This is evidence that the victims have not relied on the state alone even for the conviction of the suspects for murder. Moreover, given the proximity of the accused to the then-administration of PGMA, many of them believe that even the manner by which the prosecution was initiated: against 197 accused and hence, guaranteed to take forever, was a means to ensure impunity for the very influential family accused of committing the murders. But meanwhile, anent their claim for satisfaction in the form of apology and compensation, the Maguindanao victims, unlike their Hong Kong counterparts, could only fend for themselves since it is their own state that has decided against issuing to them an apology and paying them compensation.

Meanwhile, the fact that Hong Kong has already taken steps to espouse the claim of their nationals against the Philippine government can only be the source of envy for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. For while their own government has denied them their rights as victims, at least their Hong Kong counterparts can still hope to get satisfaction and compensation. Perhaps there is solace for them in this thought.

Some clearly are luckier then others. Sad.

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.

On International Human Rights Day— MDSEA urges 3 UN Special Rapporteurs: intervene now in the continuing killings of Filipino journalists


10 December 2013—On International Human Rights Day, Media Defence Southeast Asia (MDSEA) urged 3 UN Special Rapporteurs to urgently intervene in the continuing incidents of extrajudicial killings of Filipino journalists. MDSEA reported to the 3 UN Special Rapporteurs that within two weeks of the 4th year commemoration of the Maguindanao massacre, two radio broadcasters were shot and killed in Mindanao.
On 29 November 2013, or just six days after the 4th year commemoration of the Maguindanao massacre, DXGT Radyo Abante commentator Joas Dignos was shot to death by two motorcycle-riding killers in Valencia town, Bukidnon.[1] A mere eight days later on 07 December 2013, DXFM radio host Michael Diaz Milo was shot in the head by motorcycle-riding men in Tandag City.[2]
 
“The mere killing of one journalist is the ultimate violation of the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the ICCPR and Article 19 of the UDHR– since it is permanent censorship,” according to Harry Roque Jr., MDSEA President and professor of international law.

“These continuing incidents of extrajudicial killings of journalists in the Philippines are gross violations of the right to life guaranteed under Article 6 of the ICCPR and Article 3 of the UDHR,” added Roque.

“As we celebrate International Human Rights Day, it is high time for the Philippine government to vigorously investigate and prosecute these and other numerous incidents of journalist killings to put an end to this culture of impunity against Filipino journalists,” laments Roque.

In its 4-paged “Update with Urgent Appeal” MDSEA made 5 urgent requests to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth which included urging them to conduct a country visit to the Philippines to investigate these continuing incidents of extrajudicial killings of journalists.

Click here for the  UPDATED LETTER OF ALLEGATION_UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEURS

Families of the Maguindanao massacre victims vs former Pres. Arroyo


To get a copy of the original complaint filed on November 22, 2011 by the families of the Maguindanao massacre victims, please click here Salaysay,etal vs PGMA_COMPLAINT22Nov2011

P Noy: Why have thou forsaken us?


maguindanao1I wondered what P Noy would say in this year’s SONA about the Maguindanao massacre and other cases of extralegal killings in the country. Since becoming President, he has consistently said something about this malaise. This may be because when he still seeking the people’s mandate, he sought an audience with our clients and promised that the prosecution of the perpetrators of the massacre would be on top of his priorities. This was why one of our clients, Myrna Reblando, wife of slain Manila Bulletin journalist, “Bong” Reblando, the only full time journalist of a national broad sheet to perish in the massacre, agreed to publicly endorse him in a television advertisement broadcasted at the tail end of the campaign period in 2010. That endorsement earned Myrna front seat sitting in P Noy’s inauguration at Luneta.

In 2010, while not expressly mentioning the Maguindanao massacre, P Noy did promise that he would “punish” the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. In 2011, he expressed confidence that the Department of Justice will go after those behind these extrajudicial killings. In 2012, he expressly promised that he would accord the victims of the massacre justice. Earlier this year, the Secretary of Justice declared that the prosecution of the case would be finished within the term of P Noy.

I then expected that the President would reiterate De Lima’s promise to finish the prosecution of the case before 2016. Alternatively, I was hoping that our recent expose that about 14 of the victims almost entered into a settlement with the accused would prompt the government to discharge its duty to pay compensation to the victims as a consequence of the Philippine state’s breach of its obligation to protect and promote the right to life of the victims. While Deputy Presidential mouth Valte exhibited her gross ignorance of human rights law when she said that this administration will not pay compensation to the victims since it was not responsible for the massacre; I was hoping that those with brains in the administration, such as Secretary Leila De Lima or Secretary Ronald Llamas, maybe upon the prodding’s of CHR Chair Etta Rosales, would already correct the mistake of the mouth named Valte.

So for 1 hour 45 minutes, I, with millions of other Filipinos, eagerly awaited the Presidential pronouncement on how he would protect and promote the most important right of all rights, the right to life.

My heart was hence tattered into pieces when after an hour and forty-five minutes of waiting, the President concluded his SONA without mentioning a single word on either extrajudicial killings or the Maguindanao massacre. My immediate reaction was one of panic. Oh my God, I said, the President is not even sure that the trial of the century could be concluded during his term! If it could not be done during the term of one who had not benefitted from the Ampatuans of Maguindanao, what would happen to the case should the President to be elected in 2016 be indebted anew to the family of the accused? It would certainly be hopeless for the victims.

The fact that I felt this sense of despair is actually to commend P Noy. I have always acknowledged that he is one of the few politicians who did not benefit from the Ampatuans of Maguindanao. On the contrary, he was one of those who allegedly got zero votes in the province in the 2007 elections. This is reason to be confident that there would be a level playing field in the prosecution of the massacre during his administration. But the reality is outside of P Noy, almost all of the contenders in 2016, unless the likes of Grace Poe, Chiz Escudero, or Allan Cayetano make a go for the Presidency, have had some ties with the Ampatuans of Maguindanao. This means that the possibility of a conviction, at least during my lifetime, has dimmed. This is because P Noy’s silence on the massacre is an implied admission that no one is certain when the prosecution of the country’s worse massacre will conclude.

It was also worrisome that despite the fact that there have already been 15 cases of extrajudicial killings of journalists in P Noy’s three-year-old administration, the President was equally silent on what he intends to do with the perpetrators of these killings. This prompted the Human Rights Watch to declare, “We are dismayed that President Aquino, in his State of the Nation Address today, chose not to talk about the continuing culture of impunity in the Philippines. We are disappointed that he did not take the opportunity to communicate to the military and the police that they will be held accountable for human rights violations. President Aquino’s failure to denounce abuses against outspoken activists, environmentalists, clergy and journalists sends the wrong message to abusive security forces and corrupt politicians”. The Center for International Law, for its part declared: “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”.

As for the victims, three of them, Monette Salaysay, Editha Tiamzon, and Cipriana Gatchalian tearfully asked on the occasion of the 44th month commemoration of the massacre held only a day after the SONA: “why have thou forsaken us?”

#30#

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

Ampatuan Massacre commemoration today, July 23, 2013, at 6 pm in UP Diliman


Request for Coverage

Ampatuan Massacre commemoration today, July 23, 2013, at 6 pm to 7 pm in front of UP Law Center, College of Law, UP Diliman.  Mrs. Cipriana Gatchalian, Mrs. Ramonita Salaysay & Mrs. Editha Tiamzon, widows of three of the 32 journalists killed in the massacre, will participate in the program.