One Year Later

One year after the world’s deadliest attack against journalists, the families of the 58 victims of the Ampatuan massacre continue to hope that their quest for justice will not be in vain.
Time, though, does not appear to be on their side. A year later, the numbers are dire: both the prosecution and defense have told the court that they will present the testimonies of at least 500 witnesses. After a year of trial, only 13 witnesses have thus been presented, many of whom may still recalled for cross-examination since almost all of those who have testified did so only in opposition to the Petition for Bail filed by a principal suspect in the case, Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr.

Worse, of the 196 accused of perpetrating the massacre, one has since been absolved, and only 79 have been apprehended by the authorities. An overwhelming number of those indicted for the massacre continue to be at large, including no less than 21 members of the Ampatuan clan. Of

those already in custody, only 51 have been arraigned. The patriarch, Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, have both not been arraigned because they still have pending petitions in the Court of Appeals questioning the existence of probable cause against them. Meanwhile, at least three witnesses, including self-confessed gunman, Suwaid Upham, have been killed and silenced. Many other witnesses, including their immediate families, are on the run fearing that their testimonies may endanger their own lives and limbs, including those of their loved ones.

There are some good news. To begin with, at least five members of the Ampatuan family, including the patriarch and his two sons, are in jail while the trial drags on. “ There is at least consolation in the fact that although they have not been found guilty, the Ampatuans are already paying for their sins in jail”, said Myrna Reblando, whose husband, Alejandro or “Bong”, was the only full-time employee of a national daily newspaper, the Manila Bulletin, killed in the massacre. There too is the fact that according to witness Rainier Ebus, it was Andal “Unsay” Jr., his cousin Datu Kanor, who is still at large, and several other gunmen, majority of whom are members of the Ampatuan’s private army, who shot and killed all 58 victims at close range using high powered firearms. Ebus’ testimony corroborated to the letter the narration of Upham, the witness who was killed. “Somehow, this truth on who actually killed my son aggravates the pain”, said Cristine Nuñez, mother of Victor Nuñez, a cameraman of UNTV who was killed in the massacre.

There have also been at least two witnesses who positively identified the patriarch, the former ARRM governor and other members of the Ampatuan family as taking part in the planning of the massacre. Witness Lakmudin Saliao, a former household helper of the Ampatuans, testified that he was present in at least two meetings where the clan agreed that their own relative, Esmael “Toto” Mangundadatu should not be allowed to challenge their rein in Maguindanao. According to the witness, the decision was unanimous: kill “Toto” and whoever would be with him when he files his certificate of candidacy. At one point, the patriarch was quoted by this witness as having ordered his son “Unsay” to spare the journalists and women who were part of the convoy. But the same witness related how the old man relented after being told by his son that the survivors may give evidence to the crime if their lives would be spared.

More importantly, the witnesses presented thus far have testified on attempts to cover up this massacre beyond the earlier attempt to bury all of its victims and the vehicles that they were on. The former house help testified how immediately after the carnage, the patriarch authorized the release of P400 million (roughly $10 million) to pay off prosecutors, investigators, and witnesses whom they wanted to retract their earlier testimonies. Worse, the witness also testified how no less than a Cabinet member of the former Arroyo regime, Jesus Dureza, who ironically was a former journalist himself, was ordered to be given at least P20 million pesos ($500, 000) albeit for still unclear reasons. What is clear though that it was to the same Jesus Dureza to whom the Ampatuan clan surrendered the custody of “Unsay” Ampatuan, after allegedly agreeing that no less then former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will ultimately exercise custody over the patriarch’s apparently favorite son and heir- apparent. This bolstered the fears of many of the victims that justice against the killers would have been impossible under the past regime given the Ampatuans’ close personal and political ties with the former president.

Meanwhile, the relatives of the victims continue to grapple with both the emotional pain and financial pressures brought about by the loss of their loved ones, many of whom were the sole breadwinners of their families. While the Philippine government has given each of the victims at least $6,000 by way of financial assistance, this could hardly compensate them for both the economic loss and the emotional pain created by the massacre. “I have to be strong for the sake of my child. I have to invest the little financial assistance I have received to raise my son’, declared Arlene Umpad, live-in partner of McGilbert Arriola, a camera man for UNTV who was among those killed. Arlene has invested part of the money she has received to raise cows in the province of Quezon where she and her child relocated for security reasons. Arlene, apart from tending to her cows, now also has to raise her child alone. Her son was merely three months old when the massacre happened. Her deceased partner was the youngest victim of the massacre.

Many families of the victims of the Ampatuan massacre have opted not to attend the commemoration of the tragedy at the scene of the massacre. “I will be busy tending to the grave of my husband”, said Zenaida Duhay. Another widow, Noemi Parcon, expressed apprehension about the very safety of the commemoration itself since days before, a bomb exploded in the national highway leading to the massacre site. Noemi added: “what is more important is for government to hasten the prosecution so we can obtain justice soon”.

As the Philippines and the world commemorate the worst attack on journalists in modern history, the families of the victims will light candles in the tombs of their loved ones. A candle, in the Philippines, is a symbol of remembrance. To some it also is a means of sending a message that they are not departed.

Kin of massacre victims explore U.N. help on court case

By Yahoo! Southeast Asia Editors – November 23rd, 2010Email Facebook Twitter Print

By Mylah Roque, VERA Files
For Yahoo! Southeast Asia

Relatives of victims of the year-old Maguindanao massacre on Monday sought the help of the visiting United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression in speeding up prosecution of members of the Ampatuan family and more than a hundred others charged with the multiple killings that have been described as the country’s worst election-related violence.

“Can you be a bridge to our government as our justice is so delayed?” Catherine Nunez, mother of one of the 32 journalists and media workers killed in the massacre, asked Special Rapporteur Frank William La Rue during a lecture-dialog held at the University of the Philippines College of Law.

Nunez specifically asked if the U.N. could facilitate with the Philippine government a speedier resolution of the prosecution of the case.

La Rue is in Manila not on an official visit but to participate in activities marking the first anniversary of the massacre. But he told Nunez, “As a matter of principle, impunity often comes (not just) as denial of justice but also as slowness of justice.”

La Rue expresed optimism over the prospect of coming to the Philippines on a formal visit, but at the same time said it could happen only after requests and invitations are made by a broad spectrum of affected individuals and institutions.

He would need a formal invitation from the Philippine government to conduct a formal factfinding.

The last time such an official invitation was issued was in February 2007, when Philip Alston, then the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, visited and issued a report characterized by a strong disapproval of the many executions that occurred during the Arroyo government.

As special rapporteur, La Rue has a mandate from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct factfinding missions relating to violations of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, discrimination, threats and violence against journalists or other professionals in the field of information.

La Rue noted that it is in the Philippines that the highest number of journalists killed in a single instance happened.

The 2010 Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists ranked the Philippines third worldwide, after Iraq and Somalia, among the countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes.

At the lecture-dialog sponsored by CenterLaw, Media Legal Defence Initiative and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, La Rue talked about his experience as a Guatemalan human rights lawyer and how mechanisms such as the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala could be a useful model for other countries.

Besides Nunez, relatives of massacre victims who attended the lecture-dialog were Myrna Reblando, Editha Tiamzon, Julieta Evardo, Zenaida Duhay and Ma. Cipiriana Gatchalian.

Aside from them, two Filipino comfort women— Isabelita Vinuya and Perla Balingit—spoke with La Rue.


VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look into current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”


I’m back. After a whole semester that seemed like an eternity, I’m back behind the teachers’ desk at the UP College of Law. And because it is the Centennial of the College this year, I was spared from the normal 12 hours of teaching a week and lieu thereof; I get to teach only two subjects but with the commitment to publish at least two books as part of the commemoration.

This also means that I am back as well to the many curricular activities that I used to take more seriously in the past. High up in the list is mooting, or competitions where law students simulate court proceedings either before the International Court of Justice in the Jessup Moot Court competition, or the International Criminal Court for the Philipppine International Humanitarian Law Moot Court Competition sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross. The IHL moot competition in fact begins today with a welcome dinner and launch of the third volume of the Asia-Pacific Yearbook of International Humanitarian Law at Barbara’s in Intramuros tonight.

I am particularly proud of the IHL moot competition because I founded it in 2005 when I was then the Director of the Institute of International Legal Studies of the UP Law Center. It used to be that the Manila delegation of the ICRC would send both the UP and the Ateneo moot court teams to Hong Kong to compete in the Regional IHL moot court competition sponsored by the Hong Kong Red Cross. I was the coach for UP when in 2004, we won both first and second place in this regional competition prompting the organizers to change the rules of the competition, To prevent a repeat of our feat in 2004 where both UP teams representing the prosecution and the defense went against each other in the final round, creating thus a dilemma for me on which side to cheer; subsequent competitions would hence require the same students to argue both sides of the given problem. In this manner, no two teams from one school could now ever go against each other at the final
round. That was the first and only time the Philippines won that competition in Hong Kong. In the previous year in 2003, another team which I coached, whose members included Diane Desierto now of the ICJ and Yale Law School, Neil Silva of the Department of Justice, and Ruben Acebedo, also made history when they became the first ever Asian team to win the English round of the Jean Pictet IHL Competition in France, sharing the grand prize with the team from Cambridge University. That feat has also not been repeated although the National University of Singapore has since also won in the English session of the Pictet.

In any case, fresh from our twin and unprecedented victory in Hong Kong, I decided that the dissemination of IHL could be better served if more schools are made to join the IHL moot competition. Since the Manila ICRC could not send more than two teams to Hong Kong annually, I suggested that we hold a national IHL moot court competition. The winner, as a prize, would then be sent as the Philippine team to the Hong Kong Regional moot competition, And so in November of 2005, with funding provided by the Manila ICRC delegation and with the cooperation of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, we held the very first Philippine National IHL Moot Court Competition.

We only had 6 teams competition on the first ever competition. This, I thought, was still an improvement over the number of schools participating in the Philip Jessup Moot Court competition. At its best, Jessup attracted only three schools which inevitably, was from UP, Ateneo and a third school, normally a choice between UST or De La Salle. Since its humble beginnings, the Philippine National IHL Moot Competition has been attracting an average of 16 schools annually. This year, there will only be 14 schools competition with at least 2 schools withdrawing from this year’s competition.

IHL is not only my field of specialization. It is also of utmost importance to the Philippines. As a lex specialis applicable in times of armed conflicts and with the avowed goal of limiting human sufferings in times of armed hostilities, IHL literally could mean the difference between life or death for civilians and other protected individuals.

This year’s problem for the competition is the criminal liability of one Colonel Potter for:

1) Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;

2) Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects;

3) Employing weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering or which are inherently indiscriminate in violation of the international law of armed conflict.

The prosecutors need to establish all the elements of the crime charged, including the basis for the colonel’s criminal responsibility, either for directly ordering the acts or on the basis of command responsibility. As is the case in the real world, the task is very hard for the prosecutor since it has to prove all the elements of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt. Defense counsel, on the other hand, has the relatively easier task of introducing reasonable doubt. The downside for the defense is that since this is sponsored by the ICRC which stands for adherence with the letter and intent of the law, the accused will normally be viewed as villains.

To all the participants and coaches to this year’s Philippine National Moot Court Competition, welcome and may the best team win! See you in the final round of the competition on the 19th of this month at the session hall of the Supreme Court.#30#

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