Cops, warden face raps for blocking media in Maguindanao massacre trial
- Police Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, former Philippine National Police Public Information Office chief
- Police Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor, current PNP PIO head
- Jail Senior Inspector LLoyd Gonzaga, jail warden of the Quezon City jail annex in Camp Bagong Diwa,
"Lest these BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology) and PNP officers have forgotten, the November 23, 2009 massacre was a direct attack against free elections and press freedom, two important pillars of democracy: a free press is a necessary requisite for an informed citizenry that can participate intelligently in the affairs of a democratic state," the complaint said.
The Quezon City Regional Trial Court is currently hearing the rebuttal evidence of the defense. (READ: Conviction in PH 'partial victory' vs impunity)
Former Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr, along with former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr and former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan are 3 of the 197 individuals accused in the brutal massacre of 58 victims, including 32 journalists, in November 2009 in Maguindanao.
The police has barred the media from covering the proceedings since August 14, 2014 without providing an official reason and clear guidelines, the complainant said.
Back in August, police said the media was not allowed to enter because they had no vehicle stickers. According to the complaint, police officers stationed at the main gate of PNP Bagong Diwa claimed the order to block the media came from then PNP PIO chief Sindac.
On the day the defense team of former governor Zaldy Ampatuan was scheduled to present their first witness, journalists were again prohibited from covering the proceedings for two reasons, the complaint said: that the court room was full; and the authorities wanted to bar ABS-CBN from entering the courtroom so, to be fair, it will not allow any reporter from any network to enter the courtroom.
On October 1, the PNP PIO told the media that the BJMP had yet to issue guidelines for coverage, preventing journalists from entering the court room once again. Mayor was already the PNP PIO chief during this time.
"The changing reasons for disallowing media coverage of a monumental case like the Ampatuan, Maguindanao massacre case are just excuses to cover up a clear violation of the people's right to ifnormation and to a free press," the complaint said.
Since 2010, a temporary court for the proceedings has been set up in the Quezon City Jail Annex inside Camp Bagong Diwa, where most of the accused are detained.
Not our fault
Sought for comment, Mayor said access to the hearing was subject to the restriction of the court.
The media complaint noted that the Supreme Court has allowed media coverage provided that only pens and papers can be brought inside, and that Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 22 presiding judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has "expressly stated" that she has not prohibited the media from covering the trial. Mayor however said it would be best for the PIO to secure an official copy of the complaint from the Ombudsman before issuing a response.
Asked whether the media would be allowed to cover the massacre hearing scheduled Wednesday, November 11, in Bicutan, Mayor said the discretion would be up to the jail warden and not the PIO.
"Number one, we emphasize that I only became the public information officer recently and we acknowledge the role of the media in disseminating ifnormation but there are rules to be observed because it is not absolute," Mayor said.
"Number two, the ones who implement security measures there are the local police authorities. Number 3, I will answer the complaint once it is provided to us by the Ombudsman," he added.
Securing a conviction on the case before Aquino steps down from office in 2016 is one of the priorities of the current adminsitration.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima recently took over the supervision of the Maguindanao massacre case amid an ongoing dispute between government prosecutors and two private lawyers over allegations of bribery and differences in legal strategy. – Rappler.com