“Maguindanao massacre trial must be made public”

“Lawyer JV Bautista, an IBP volunteer and former Sanlakas partylist representative, believed that the trial of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre should be made public.”


NUJP to seek increased media access in Maguindanao massacre trial


01/11/2010 | 03:05 PM

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) is set to write a letter or file a motion requesting a court to grant media organizations increased access to the Maguindanao massacre trial.

The group is currently finalizing a letter to Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes or the Quezon City regional trial court “or if needed file a motion to the Supreme Court or to the judge” to seek a compromise regarding the trial’s coverage restrictions, Rowena Paraan, NUJP Secretary-General said.

The matter is still being discussed with its lawyers and the group may file the letter or motion on Tuesday morning.

“We do recognize that they have to protect the rights of the accused but they also have to consider the right of the public to access information and the right of media to cover (the proceedings), in fact it’s our responsibility,” she said.

The NUJP will continue to push for its original proposal regarding the media’s trial coverage, involving the use of one camera inside the court that will broadcast proceedings to a widescreen television outside.

The proposal also involves granting permission to reporters to bring their recorders.

This arrangement will enable the media to get the exact quotes of whoever will speak or testify, Paraan said.

“This is also for the rights of the accused,” she said, adding that increased media coverage will help make the proceedings more transparent and reportage more accurate.

“Actually it is for everybody, not just for the reporters,” she said.

During the January 5 hearing, reporters had to go through three levels of inspection and checking to ensure that they will not be able to bring any recording or digital devices to capture the proceedings. [See: Back to basics for journalists covering Ampatuan trial]

The public was only able to get a glimpse of the proceedings through the illustrations provided by Angela ‘Ala’ Paredes, who was commissioned by the SC. [See: Jim Paredes’ daughter provides ‘snapshots’ of Andal arraignment]

If the media was able to give correct reports on the first day of the hearing despite restrictions, that was because of the diligence of the reporters, Paraan said.

“Congratulations to the reporters, hindi yun [it’s not] congratulations to the court, to the SC…,” Paraan said.

“Buti ngayon isang hearing pa lang at mga administrative matters pa lang ang nadesisyunan e pagka yung hearing na na you need to get the exact words of the person testifying e patay tayo. Kailangan magmadali e unless marunong ng shorthand talaga na makuha mo lahat, paano yun [Good thing that that’s just one hearing and it only covered decisions about administrative matters. But if you need to get exact words of the person during the formal hearing, then we’re screwed. Reporters should write fast unless they know shorthand],” she added.

Court-imposed restrictions have an impact on the job of the journalists, on the accuracy of reports, and on the transparency of the proceedings, she said.

“Kinikilala natin yung right ng accused, in fact we want the hearing to be credible para din kung ano yung judgment na mangyari at the end of the trial OK siya [We recognize the right of the accused and in fact we want the hearing to be credible so that whatever will be the judgment at the end of the trial, it will be acceptable to all],” Paraan said.

IBP to support NUJP’s move

Lawyer Roan Libarios, Integrated Bar of the Philippines governor for Eastern Mindanao, said that the IBP will support and endorse the motion to be filed by the NUJP.

“We are in support of the request of the NUJP and other media organizations to be allowed access to the court proceedings subject to some safety nets. We will be endorsing the request of the NUJP,” he said.

Lawyer JV Bautista, an IBP volunteer and former Sanlakas partylist representative, believed that the trial of the accused in the Maguindanao massacre should be made public.

“Remember that the accused here are all public officials. They are either executives of the local government units or police officers so these people have public functions to perform and as a matter of fact one can say that in the commission of the crime, they were actually performing public functions. That is why the public must have an interest here,” he said.

In his experience as a trial lawyer, it is the accused who have something to hide who do not want a public trial and the principle in the country’s court system is that trials should be public.

“Now in the age of mass media where you have television and radio, I do not see any reason why this public viewing of the trial cannot be transmitted to millions through the mass media,” Bautista said.

“[Through a public trial] you will see the competence of everybody, you will see if the defense counsel is hiding something, you will see if the judge is inept or not,” he said.

NUJP and IBP are members of the People’s Task Force Maguindanao, an alliance of 30 lawyers’ and journalists’ groups, leading efforts to seek justice for the victims of the massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao last November 23.

At least 57 people, including journalists, lawyers and women, were killed in the incident.

Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., currently detained at the National Bureau of Investigation, stands accused of masterminding the massacre.

His other family members who were also accused of involvement in the crime were in a detention cell in General Santos City. – RJAB, Jr./GMANews.TV



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