Gag order in Makati murder trial?

MANILA, Philippines - Lawyers of the 4 suspects in the murder of a US Marine in Makati believe that overexposure on social media is hurting their case.

Lawyers for Juan Alfonso Abastillas, Osric Cabrera, Galicano Datu III and Crispin de la Paz slammed on Thursday, January 10, the sharing of the CCTV footage -- which shows the suspects attacking the victim -- on Facebook or YouTube and claimed it was "destroying their reputation."

They want a gag order on the media, particularly on social media.

Jay de Castro, defense counsel for Datu, told Rappler after the hearing that "from day one of the incident, the CCTV came out in the social media (…) is not good for the accused. It is our position that only the version of the prosecution was presented."

"Had the full CCTV been shown, especially the unlawful aggression on the part of the victim George Anikow, then the people would know that there is actually no case of murder, no case of homicide, just a pure act of self defense on the part of the accused," he added.

Accused 'children'?

While the defense lawyers were taking turns arguing their verbal motion for the gag order, De Castro said that the court should "preserve the honor and the reputation of these children."

"Are they still [considered] children?," Regional Trial Court No. 59 Judge Winlove Dumayas asked Datu's defense counsel.

Of the 4 defendants charged with murder, the oldest, De la Paz, is 28 years old; Cabrera is 27, Abastillas 24 and Datu 22.

Unfazed by the comment, Abastillas' lawyer Miguel Damaso insisted that only certain portions of the video were published by the media, which he accused of attempting to provoke a conclusion to the public.

"There so many aspects [of the CCTV] that have not been shown," he said.

Cabrera's counsel Redemberto Villanueva -- who used to defend Maguindanao massacre suspect Zaldy Ampatuan -- noted that the "publication" of the court proceedings "will affect the perception of the process."

Villanueva also acknowledged the presence of a handful of reporters and told Judge Dumayas to remind them about not taking pictures inside the courtroom.

IN COURT. The defendants appeared in court on Thursday for the first time since they were arraigned in late December. Screenshot from video by Carlos Santamaria

IN COURT. The defendants appeared in court on Thursday for the first time since they were arraigned in late December.

Screenshot from video by Carlos Santamaria

Prosecution not worried

Asked about the defense's gag request after Thursday's hearing, the prosecution did not seem to be worried.

"The defense made a verbal motion earlier, but it was a general motion. The prosecution will wait for a written motion to find out what the extent of the request is before we make our decision known on the matter," said Makati City assistant prosecutor Hannah Arriola.

Arriola told Rappler that she will not comment on the issue for now: "We will study it more in depth when the motion is filed."

The trial was adjourned until January 17, when the accused will face Rommel Saavedra, the security guard who witnessed the incident.

Saavedra is expected to identify the 4 suspects as the men he saw stabbing the victim after the American engaged them in a fistfight outside the security checkpoint leading to the Rockwell residential area.

The guard was expected to take the witness stand on Thursday but the session dragged on and finally ended without his testimony.

Arriola's next move will be to bring in a digital imaging expert to enlarge fragments of the footage in an attempt to identify the killers from the video.

MILITARY MAN. Anikow served in Afghanistan helping develop relationships between the US military and the local population. Photo courtesy of US Marine Cops official Flickr account

MILITARY MAN. Anikow served in Afghanistan helping develop relationships between the US military and the local population.

Photo courtesy of US Marine Cops official Flickr account

US 'very interested' in trial

After initially pondering filing a motion for judicial reconsideration of probable charge to downgrade the charge to homicide, the defense moved late December to accept murder but asked the judge to grant bail on a non-bailable offense as there is "insufficient evidence" against the suspects.

Now the lawyers are questioning the video provided by Rockwell, arguing that there is a two-second gap missing.

Judge Dumayas held on Monday, January 7, a special session inside the main security office of the Makati residential area, after which both sides agreed that the footage from the CD copy sent to the police and the original recording were identical.

Anikow was walking home from a night out drinking when he first approached the checkpoint to harass Saavedra and ended up provoking the suspects to alight their vehicle and engage him in a fistfight.

The American was stabbed with a tactical knife and bled to death on the side of the road, as is seen in the CCTV.

US consul general Michael Schimmel, who attended Thursday's hearing, told Rappler that Anikow "left behind 3 small children, a grieving wife and a very wounded community, so we are very interested in the outcome of this case."

Embassy officials are closely observing the trial, although FBI involvement has been denied from the beginning. - Rappler.com