Philippine Bishops want live media coverage of controversial court case
Some Philippine Catholic bishops issued recently their support for live media coverage of the trial of the infamous Maguindanao massacre case, which has drawn worldwide condemnation.
President Benigno S. Aquino, media organizations, academics and relatives of the victims have already issued a similar call to the Supreme Court. Some 57 civilians, including 30 media members, were shot dead by armed men in the massacre, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
The politically powerful Ampatuan clan allegedly ordered the bloodbath because the wife of their political rival, from the Mangudadatu clan, was on her way to file the candidacy of her husband in last year’s elections, accompanied by supporters and the media, GMANews.TV reported.
One year later, the wheels of justice at the Quezon City (in Metro Manila) Regional Trial Court move slowly. Charges were filed against 197 suspects led by the former Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., GMANews.TV reported.
The PDI said that although 197 are accused, “only a number, including the primary suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., are in custody.”
The bishops who stated their support include Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles who last Friday said on the Catholic-run Radio Veritas, “What I ask is transparency … This trial must not be kept from the public and, for this [massacre] to be resolved, everything must be brought to light. If you keep it in the dark, it must mean something else,” according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Marbel Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Cotabato, Mindanao said, “[Live coverage is imperative] so the public may know, so the truth will [come] out,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said the trial is taking too long. “We ask the Department of Justice to focus on the case, use extraordinary (effort) if necessary and apply the full force of the law so the case would have an early resolution,” the Manila Bulletin reported.
The Church in Mindanao organized a “Seek for Peace” bike campaign from Nov. 26 to Dec. 2 where some 200 bikers will go from Cotabato City to the massacre site, ending with an interfaith prayer rally for justice, peace and unity, the Manila Bulletin said.
Setback by death
The case was seriously set back recently when senior State Prosecutor Leo Dacera, one of the government lawyers for the victims, died of a heart attack. Dacera also handled the Department of Justice’s Witness Protection Program, which is underfunded and unpopular in some political circles, GMANews.TV reported.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, which is based in New York, said in a statement, “While there is no evidence to suggest that he died from anything other than natural causes, given the sensitivity of his position a thorough and transparent investigation should be carried out,” GMANews.TV reported.
A mass petition was submitted to the Supreme Court for live coverage signed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, television network giants ABS-CBN and GMA-7, faculty from the UP College of Mass Communications, 31 journalists and relatives of the victims, the PDI said.
Jose Midas Marquez, Supreme Court spokesman said, “We value the opinion of the President, but then again there is existing jurisprudence … That’s why the petition should be sufficient in form and in substance, which would give the court the opportunity to revisit this doctrine. And in deciding this case, the opinions of the head executive and other opinions of VIPs can be considered,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.
Bagaforo said the Maguindanao massacre must be prioritized as terror is escalating in the province. After the Ampatuan clan was ousted, “self-styled terror groups” were spawned. Fr. Eduardo Vazquez, who witnessed the massacre, is being targeted by a hit squad, the Manila Bulletin reported.
Vazquez confirmed on Radio Veritas that he has been receiving death threats, the Manila Bulletin said.