Conference Rush

I’m in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for an unprecedented seven lectures in a span of five days. The first three, two of which are done, is in the National University of Malaysia in Bangi, about an hour away from downtown Kuala Lumpur. The occasion here is the 6th Southeast Asia Teaching Seminar on International Humanitarian Law (SEATS) sponsored by the regional delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross. I am now the longest running lecturer at this forum, having lectured at all six sessions of the seminar. This year’s batch has he most number of Filipinos attending: a faculty member each from the Philippine Military Academy, the Philippine National Police Academy and the Western Mindanao University; a journalist based in Koronadal, and a Committee Secretary at the House of Representatives.
My topics are “Challenges in the Implementation of IHL in Non-International Armed Conflicts” and “Counter-Terrorism Measures and IHL”. On the first, the issue revolves around how treaty obligations intended to protect mankind during armed conflicts can be made applicable to non-state actors. Here, I emphasized that the principles of protection and humane treatment, as well as the limitation on means and methods of warfare as stated in the principles of distinction, military necessity and proportionality have achieved the status of jus cogens, or non-derogable norms, and are hence applicable to both states and individuals.

The second was a longer and more lively discussion which examined recent decisions of the Supreme Court on whether the on-going “war against terror” is governed by IHL, a query which the US Supreme Court has answered affirmatively in these three cases, and on such other measures such as the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”, “rendition” and targeted killings”, all of which are frowned upon by both international and domestic laws.

Later today, I will hold a public talk at the university itself on the topic of the “Role of National Courts in the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law”. There, Philippine Supreme Court decisions in such landmark cases such as Yamashita vs. Tyler and Kuroda vs. Jalandoni, which held that the rules and customs of war are binding on us even in the absence of local legislation, as well as David vs. Arroyo, the decision which declared former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s executive order calling upon the military and the police with xxx “acts of terrorism” as unconstitutional in the absence of a legislative definition of “terrorism”. This plays prominently with such prominent decisions of foreign courts such as In re: Pinochet, a decision which ruled that immunity cannot be raised as a defense for in prosecutions involving international crimes, and Paquete Habana, a US Supreme Court decision that also upheld the binding nature of a principle of IHL, the prohibition on the arrest of fishing vessels as prize of war, even in the absence of local US legislation.

Then I literally rush to the University of Malaya where the 3rd biennial conference of the Southeast Asia Media Legal defense Network (SEA MLDN) is being held. This is an organization of lawyers dedicated to defending journalists and media outlets, as well as to the promotion of the freedoms of expression and free press. Hopefully, I will arrive just on time for the opening panel, the country reports on the status of freedom of expression in the 10 Asean countries. My prognosis is that while freedom of expression and freedom of the press have greatly improved under President Aquino’s administration, it is still far from ideal. I will mention the continuing murder of journalists that have not seen the light of day in any courtroom, including that of the killing of Palawan-based broadcaster Gerry Ortega, the snail-paced trial of the Maguindanao massacre case that claimed the lives of 32 journalists and today described as the deadliest attack on journalists worldwide, as well as the IIRC recommendation to prosecute members of the media for their coverage of the Luneta hostage crisis.

I will also report that criminal libel continues to be used as an affront on press freedom highlighting the fact that while the former First Gentleman has ceased to file libel cases, it is now a sitting Justice of the Supreme Court that has developed the penchant for doing so. Furthermore, I will highlight disparaging remarks made by PNoy and his spokesperson against press freedom. PNoy has at least two of these remarks in his first year of office: a statement during the induction of the Ad Board to the effect that advertisers should not patronize media outlets that sensationalize the news, a remark which was reminiscent of President Erap’s call to movie producers boycott the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s entertainment section, and a complaint that media is not covering the gains of his administration and is instead focusing on his love life.

Marites Vitug, who has described PNoy as a “serial dater” is also attending the conference together with veteran reporter and columnist Ellen Tordesillas. There too will be a mention of the fact that PNoy reneged on his election promise to support the enactment of the freedom of information bill.

On the good news, I will report the Supreme Court decision allowing the live coverage of the Maguindanao massacre, a major triumph for the right to know, albeit clouded by the issued media guidelines—the subject of a pending motion for reconsideration.

Still later tonight, over dinner, I will discuss developments in the Maguindanao massacre case, including the recent machinations of Zaldy Ampatuan and his Palace backers. Later in the conference, I will lecture also on international remedies for the protection and promotion of freedom of expression, an area where we have acquired a regional expertise. Finally, I will participate in a debate in support of the proposition that public figures do not have private lives.

Immediately when I get back, my UP office, the Institute of International Legal Studies of the UP Law Center will hold a two day “National Summit on the Kalayaan Group of Islands and the West Philippine Seas” on August 1 and 2. At least four members of the cabinet have confirmed their attendance. On 5 August, my Institute will also sponsor a public talk featuring Anwar Ibrahim on the topic “Rizal, Ninoy and Asian leadership”.

Talk about being busy!

ZALDY’S PLOY AND THE WPP: Lifetime in a safehouse

The last time I engaged a sitting Cabinet member into a word war, that is prior to this recent one, was when Justice Secretary Alberto Agra absolved Zaldy Ampatuan from liability in the Maguindanao massacre case. Prior to the Agra order of dismissal, there was unusual tension between the public prosecutors and us. I did not pay too much to the tension because I thought it was normal for bureaucrats to please their superior. Even colleagues in the ranks of the private prosecution went out of their way to please Agra. Nena Santos, on the Friday before the Sunday when Agra absolved Zaldy, went to Padre Faura with 26 of her clients, and pledged their full support and confidence to the then Secretary. But when d-day came, it was the public prosecutors that walked out first followed by Nena, the latter even claiming that huge amounts of money were involved in the decision. Vindication, I thought. To think, just days prior to the issuance of the order of dismissal, I was classified by both public and private prosecutors as their biggest headache. I hope to be equally vindicated in my most recent tussle with 2 Cabinet members.My belligerence then had good basis. Days after the November 23 massacre, we all saw the police, even aided by a back hoe, was contaminating a crime scene where no less than 58 victims were murdered in the most gruesome manner. We knew then too that the suspects were very well connected. As Lintang Bedol is now confirming, PGMA and Miguel Zubiri owe their election into public office not to the people who gave them a political mandate, but to the cheating machinery of the Ampatuans. Add to that the fact that the dreaded clan was an acknowledged ally of the state in the fight against Muslim insurgents, what you have is a sure recipe for impunity where government proved to be eager to white wash the investigation of the case. The 300 million that witness Lakmudin Saliao claimed the family distributed for this purpose, certainly came in handy.

If at all, we participated in the prosecution of the Maguindanao massacre fully aware that those in power then wanted a proceeding that would absolve a valuable political ally. We participated nonetheless hoping that with elections just around the comer, hope was forthcoming since PGMA, lest there be a failure of elections courtesy of SMARTMATIC, was disqualified to seek another term. And yes, change did take place with the unprecedented election victory of P Noy.

Then last week happened. On Monday,, two network stations broadcasted their earlier taped interviews with former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan. Among others, he claimed that he has information that could convict his kin in the massacre. Meanwhile he maintained that he had no participation either in the planning or the execution of the massacre. His lawyer, Atty. Redempto Villanueva, on Tuesday, claimed in a TV talk show that his client wanted witness protection. Also on Tuesday, I was listening to the radio on my way to the Department of Justice when I heard DILG Secretary Robredo holding a press conference. He declared, “we should listen to what former ARMM Governor has to say”. Edwin Lacierda would later declare that the “doors of Malacañang is open to Zaldy”. Robredo would later admit linking Zaldy with the President.

Later in the evening of Tuesday, Lintang Bedol would also be interviewed on television. He claimed what we have known all along, especially those of us who filed three impeachment complaints against PGMA, that there was massive cheating in Maguindanao in the 2004 and 2007 elections. He called PGMA a “fake president” and alleged that Senator Migs Zubiri has no popular mandate. He narrated how the former First Gentleman ordered that the votes of PNoy, Ping Lacson, and Allan Peter Cayetano should be shaved in Maguindanao. In the interview, Atty. Krisitine Esguerra, counsel of Zaldy Ampatuan. was captured by the camera. This is proof that Zaldy arranged for the interview.

In my mind, it was clear: these interviews were meticulously arranged, scripted, as in fact, their broadcast was embargoed for two weeks, and all formed part of Zaldy’s plan.

Zaldy clearly wanted to be admitted into the Witness Protection Program for the murder cases. But when the door to this possibility was shut by the President himself, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima then declared that he could still qualify as a state witness for other crimes, such as for election sabotage.

Alarm bells rang. I had personal experience on how the WPP works. In the case of Boomar, our star witness in the murder case of Dr. Gerry Ortega of Palawan. A person admitted into the WPP shall have the right to “secure housing facility” until the threat to his life should have ceased. This means that Zaldy’s admission into the WPP for election sabotage, even in the event he is convicted in the murder case, would mean that he will never spend time in Muntinlupa for the 58 counts of murder. He would instead be in the custody of the WPP in that “secure housing facility”. Because of limitations in government resources, Zaldy himself could provide for his housing. Conceivably, by testifying on election sabotage and the plunder cases against his own family, Zaldy could spend the rest of his life in one of their many mansions secured by operatives from the WPP and drawing an allowance from the state for the rest of his life.

Brilliant ploy.


The moro-moro is back. It’s now playing in Malacañang and its lead star is Zaldy Ampatuan. It’s entitled: “give me immunity and I will tell you the truth”.First, there is the attempt to mislead. Zaldy Ampatuan, co-accused in 58 counts of murder in a massacre that has the notoriety of being attributed to his family […] More →

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