“The [Ampatuan massacre] case is an encapsulation of ‘justice delayed, justice denied.'” – Dean Roland Tolentino, UP College of Mass Communications
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Various groups branded President Benigno Aquino III as “Impunity King” not only for his administration’s failure to resolve the Ampatuan massacre but for “the perpetuation of the culture of impunity.”
On November 23, 2009, 58 individuals, 32 of whom are journalists, were brutally killed allegedly by men of the Ampatuan clan in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao. Three of the primary suspects are detained for murder charges. Nine others remain at large.
Harry Roque, lawyer for the families of 17 of the victims, said the hearings are locked up in bail petitions. “After four years, the trial has reached 20 percent of the proceedings. This will not be resolved under the Aquino administration. That would be impossible,” Roque said.
Roland Tolentino, dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication (UP-CMC) said the case is an “encapsulation of ‘justice delayed, justice denied.'”
“Amid the sad witnessing of the continuing denial of justice [to the victims], we also want to remain vigilant,” Tolentino said.
In a unity statement, alternative media outfits, End Impunity Alliance, University of the Philippines College of Mass Communications, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, among others, said Aquino has not done anything to end impunity. “This is the main reason why the killings and harassment of journalists continue.”
According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, 19 have been killed in the line of duty under the Aquino administration.
“Impunity is alive because there are whistleblowers of corruption who get harassed and intimidated, if not permanently silenced, and the masterminds remain unpunished,” the groups said. They cited the killing of Gerry Ortega (who exposed the misuse of Malampaya funds) and Marlene Esperat (who investigated the P728-million fertilizer fund scam). “Indeed, there is no accountability as corruption continues and freedom of information is denied.”
Benny Antiporda, president of the National Press Club (NPC), said he texted Justice Secretary Leila de Lima three months ago to follow up the case. He said De Lima told him that she was busy but promised to meet him the following week. The meeting never took place.
Antiporda said he also asked Secretary Herminio Coloma of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) about the case. “He [Coloma] said, ‘ We cannot do anything as of the moment, we’re still dealing with problems,’ referring to the PDAF [Priority Development Assistance Fund], DAP [Disbursement Acceleration Program],” Antiporda related.
Antiporda likened the government’s handling of the Ampatuan massacre case to its response to the victims of supertyphoon Yolanda. “It seems it has become normal for our government to see bodies lying in the street. Walang pakundangan. What about the families of those killed?”
Roque said both the Ampatuan massacre and Yolanda are tragedies. “One is a natural disaster and the other is man-made disaster.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of human rights group Karapatan, said that in both instances, Aquino must be held accountable. “The absence of accountability is a problem of governance,” Palabay said.
Palabay said Aquino himself promised to resolve the killings during the electoral campaign in 2010. “He cannot say he has no direct control. He knows that the government should abide by its commitment to uphold and defend human rights.”
Marlon Nombrado of the Union of Journalists of the Philippines (UJP)-UP chapter, said the Ampatuan massacre and media killings are but some manifestations of impunity in the country. He cited the extrajudicial killings of activists and other human rights violations.
Based on documentation by Karapatan from June 2010 to August 2013, there are 152 victims of extrajudicial killings, 18 victims of enforced disappearances, 80 victims of torture, more than 31,000 victims of forced evacuation.
Speaking for the campus press, CEGP national secretary general Marc Lino Abila said student publications are not exempted from attacks. As of June 2013, the CEGP documented 230 cases of campus press freedom violations. These include censorship, non-mandatory collection of funds, libel charges, suspension, military harassment, among others.
The CEGP and its member-publications all over the country will hold a National Day of Action against Impunity on Nov.21.
Danilo Arao, vice dean of the UP-CMC, said they will hold several activities this week, culminating in a march around Academic Oval on Nov. 22. Later in the afternoon, they will also join the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) in a human chain along Roxas Boulevard.