Binay is still on top


The reality is that despite his detractors having thrown the kitchen sink at him, Vice President Jejomar Binay remains the top choice of the country for the Presidency in 2016.

This hardly comes as a surprise given his proven managerial skills as chief executive of the country’s financial center, and his credentials as a lawyer, a humans rights advocate, housing czar, and as a person who genuinely came from the ranks of the poor. Binay’s very high ratings- despite the alleged overpriced Makati City Hall Annex and the so-called Hacienda Binay -is a testament that the people have clearly made up their minds on his fitness for the country’s highest post.

It is also proof of what I warned his detractors about before: it is not enough to destroy a person’s reputation. The people will demand that those who seek higher office prove their own credentials. Clearly, the negligible 3 percent received by my friend Senator Alan Cayetano indicates that the voters are casually asking him: if you are offering yourselves as the alternative to Binay, prove that you have what it takes to succeed. Judging by the single percentage support that Cayetano received from the people, he clearly has to move on to something more constructive to be more acceptable to the voters.

Despite the fact that Binay is still on top, one has to acknowledge that perhaps the biggest gainer in the recent survey is Senator Grace Poe. I have always been fond of Grace Poe. While we missed her in the fight against the cheater President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, I was happy when she surfaced to continue the fight that her father had started. The fact that she landed first in the last elections is a testament that our voters want to make amends to the late Fernando Poe Jr. Clearly, the electorate has rewarded her for the heartbreak and the injustice that her father suffered in the hands of Garci et al.

But Grace Poe is not just a factotum of her father. Already, she has begun to prove her mettle with her Senate investigation against PNP Chief Alan Purisima, her authorship of the Freedom of Information bill, and her Senate hearings on poverty.

I had the pleasure of seeing her in action when she invited me as a resource person on a piece of legislation that would declare the anniversary of the Maguindanao massacre as Press Freedom Day. She appeared well versed in the draft legislation, astute in her perceptions, and probing in her questions. She is clearly walking the talk when she said that she has shelved any immediate plans for higher office so she can be the best in her current role as senator. I have no doubts that after 2016, Grace Poe may be destined to be the next President of the Republic.

Meanwhile, and I have long advocated for this, I hope to see “Binay na Poe for 2016”. They would be an unbeatable tandem. Let’s hope that those who cheated Poe’s father and belittled him when he was alive will not interfere with her natural political maturity and cajole her into seeking the Presidency in 2016, even before she is able to learn the ropes of governance.

If there’s a biggest winner, there’s also a biggest loser. This clearly is the administration bet, Mar Roxas. I do not know what happened to Mar. I myself was for him until former President Cory Aquino’s sudden demise and destined PNoy for the presidency. At this point, Mar should gather his old guards and have an honest assessment of where he went wrong. Let’s face it, Mar should have scored more than 6 percent after his cohorts in the Senate launched their witch hunt against Binay. Full stop.

The good Justice Ingles

I intentionally left out from my column last week the highlight of the Manila Summit on Judicial Integrity and Accountability. This was not because he was not newsworthy. On the contrary, he was the highlight of the event.

Justice Gabriel T. Ingles is one of the few magistrates that has refused to receive allowances from either the City or the Province of Cebu. This is equivalent to no less than P64,000 monthly in allowances. He has refused the allowances on the basis that it would compromise his judicial independence since the city and the province could have cases with the Court of Appeals.

Considering that a Justice’s full salary amounts to no more than P125,000 per month, this means that Justice Ingles has given up effectively a third of what he could be earning to uphold judicial independence. To the skeptic who thinks that our society is hopeless insofar as corruption, and lack of accountability on the part of our public officers, think again. Justice Ingles is indeed a beacon of hope that the struggle for integrity and accountability could still be realized.

Kudos to the truly good Justice!

This post first appeared in http://manilastandardtoday.com/2014/12/11/binay-is-still-on-top/.

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