Insights and opinions from our contributors on the current issues happening in the region

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Special election for Samar 2nd District may be called to choose a new House Representative

Indifference to disaster

The face of hunger

No change in the Church’s teaching on condoms

For the greed for money, corruption persists

Yellowing journalism

An invitation to a formal debate

Police torture video affirms police stations are 'torture chambers'

Freedom of religion under threat

Sex Ed a wedge issue





A call for transparency and vigilance

Statement of the Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the November 23 Movement
March 2, 2011

THE Ampatuan Massacre trial has entered a crucial phase. This week, barely two weeks after the 15th month since 58 men and women including 32 journalists and media workers were brutally murdered in one of the worst attacks on democracy and press freedom in Philippine history, the Court of Appeals will be deciding on the petition for certiorari filed by suspended ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) governor Zaldy Ampatuan.

Should the petition prosper, Mr. Ampatuan will be dropped from the list of those accused of masterminding and carrying out the massacre of November 23, 2009, and will be released from detention. If new evidence is found to once more include him in the conspiracy and multiple murder charges, the process will have to begin all over again. There is also the fear that, like a number of other accused Ampatuans who are still at large, he will manage to avoid arrest.

Mr. Ampatuan filed his petition for certiorari against Alberto Agra, the last Justice Secretary of the Arroyo government. On the basis of the weakest defense against criminal charges, the alibi that he was not in Maguindanao at the time of the massacre, Mr. Ampatuan was dropped by Mr. Agra last year from the list of persons accused of planning the massacre and participation in the killing of the 58 victims. Mr. Agra later reversed himself, and returned the name of Mr. Ampatuan among the accused. Mr. Ampatuan has since filed his petition with the Court of Appeals, alleging abuse of discretion on the part of Mr. Agra for reversing himself.

We are not prejudging the guilt or innocence of Mr. Ampatuan. Both also assume that the justices of the Court of Appeals will base their decision on the strength and credibility of the evidence Mr. Ampatuan has submitted. But for the significance of the trial and its relevance to Philippine democracy and press freedom, it is imperative that the process be perceived as credible and beyond question.

Should the perpetrators of the massacre, whoever they are, literally get away with murder, it will send the strongest message yet that neither the murder of journalists in such numbers, or that of politicians’ families and their partisans, can move the justice system to begin to dismantle the culture of impunity, or exemption from punishment, that has taken deep roots in Philippine society. It will also encourage further killings. It is crucial not only to the media, but also and even more importantly, to Philippine democracy, that the Ampatuan Massacre trial deliver to the kin of the slain the justice that has eluded so many in this country.

Some of the families of the slain journalists have filed a petition for two CA justices – Danton Bueser and Marlene Gonzales – to inhibit themselves from hearing the Zaldy Ampatuan petition because of doubts over their impartiality. Both had inhibited themselves from hearing the petition of Ampatuan patriarch Andal Sr. They should have disclosed their reasons for doing so as mandated by the new code of judicial conduct, but did not. Why should they then be part of a panel that will decide the Zaldy Ampatuan petition which is intimately related to the first petition?

We call for complete transparency on the part of the Court of Appeals. But it is also for the country’s media, journalists’ and media advocacy organizations as well as civil society groups, people’s organizations and the public at large to vigilantly monitor the process so its integrity can be accurately evaluated in keeping with their sovereign right as citizens to have their voices heard on matters of public concern and urgency.

Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists
National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
November 23 Movement
Philippine Center for Photojournalism





They will never stop until we disband them

March 1, 2011

It can be remembered that last November 15, 2010 within the vicinity of the Energy Development Corporation (EDC), the team of botanist Leonard Co with Sofronio Cortez, Julio Borromeo, Ronino Gibe, and Policarpio Balute was peppered with bullets by the elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion. As a result, Prof. Leonard Co, Sofronio Cortez and Julio Borromeo were killed.

Right after the incident, the undying military propaganda line bombarded the airwaves alleging crossfire. Many investigations were conducted, all of which negates the allegation of crossfire. Cases were filed against the 19th Infantry Battalion.

The Regional Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, KATUNGOD–SB–KARAPATAN, from its initial gathering of facts up to its participation in the National Fact Finding Mission in Kananga, Leyte maintained its findings that what happened last November 15, 2010 is a sheer and glaring massacre of innocent civilians perpetrated by the elements of the 19th Infantry Battalion.

This massacre is not the first. K3 (Kananga 3 Massacre) is the fourth under the belt of the 19th Infantry Battalion: first is the Palapag Massacre in 1999 (first assignment of 19th IB was in Northern Samar), second is the Kananga 9 massacre in 2003 in Brgy. Mahayag, Kananga, Leyte, and third is the Palo Massacre in 2005 in San Agustin, Palo, Leyte.

On the other hand, of the 16 political prisoners in the Region, who were languishing in jail for trumped up charges, nine (9) of them were arrested by the 19th Infantry Battalion. The arrests were coupled with detention and torture at their military camp.

Just recently, military elements of 19th Infantry Battalion, even with the declaration of ceasefire, conducted military operations in the barangays of Albuera, Leyte and occupying civilian installations and houses inside the Barangay: a violation of the International Humanitarian Law. In the course of their operations, the military interrogated some residents and a 17-year old girl was almost raped by one soldier.

Again, the Regional Alliance, KATUNGOD–SB–KARAPATAN, fervently calls for the immediate disband of the 19th Infantry Battalion. Time and again they have shown not to protect the rights and interest of the people of Leyte but in fact they remain as the number one violator of these rights: from the basic right to liberty to the sacred right to life.


Kathrina R. Castillo

Head, Documentation and Legal Services Committee, KATUNGOD–SB–KARAPATAN





Low road to freedom, rights, etc.

February 18, 2011

I’VE said it many times before that I’m already tired commenting on issues like population control, birth control and family planning that are now rehashed by the term reproductive health (RH), and even more lately, by the deodorized term, responsible parenthood.

To me, the right and wrong of these issues, their good and bad points insofar as their morality is concerned are quite clear. But since, some people continue in their bullheadedness to blur the line, I just have to drag myself to life again to contribute to the debate with some clarifications.

Thus, reactions of feminist groups on the recent statement of the bishops about the RH Bill have roused me again to some action. A letter by a feminist spokesperson a few days ago just managed to do just that.

As usual, the letter tries hard to sound nice, reasonable and fair. But it cannot hide for long the venom that inspired it. In the end, it said that with or without the bishops, the feminists will win this revolution about their so-called rights and freedom to do whatever they want to do with their bodies in so far as RH is concerned.

What pride and arrogance! I was expecting that, of course, from the start of their letter. The wild feminist obstinacy unfortunately continues. And the main reason is that they see things differently.

For them, bishops can only meddle in issues like the RH Bill. If they have their way, they gag the bishops to silence. They have branded the bishops as nothing less than ‘moralists,’ a term they love to hate. Worse, it’s a given that since bishops are men, they cannot fully understand women’s concerns.

That’s because in their worldview, things should just have to depend on what is popular, practical, convenient, political, social, economic, cultural, personal, or simply what they want to prefer, feminist or macho-leaning, etc. Out with the faith and morals, out with Church interventions.

They like to paint themselves as democratic, and this is how they show it. They don’t listen to the bishops, they refuse to tackle what the bishops have to offer, and that can only distinctively be considerations of faith and morals.

The bishops have no other interest, although what they offer obviously have many human implications and consequences, political, economic, social, etc. Their voice simply tries to convey the voice of God, insofar as God’s will impacts on our human affairs.

If these feminists, who like to brand themselves also as Christians, try to study their Christian faith, they will realize that the authority of the bishops comes from Christ through the apostles and their successors.

I wonder what authority these feminists have. Obviously, they will claim theirs comes from the people. But the power of the people to hand some authority to certain leaders, where does it come from?

Alas, this, I think, is the real problem we have. Many of us have practically lost our faith. Many of us have ceased to be believers of God and have turned to be self-believers.

Instead of the doctrines of our faith, many of us now rely more on our human reasons and estimations of what is good and true. Many of us prefer to be guided by our personal opinions and human consensus, rather than what God and his Church teach us.

Thus, many of us like polls and surveys. These instruments of human views and preferences are now made to replace God’s will, a good part of which is clearly elucidated, as in the Ten Commandments, and many others. One has to be maliciously blind and deaf not to know clearly at least a part of God’s will.

Our freedom and rights are gifts from God. They are not our inventions. They come from God and are meant for God and for our true good. God is their law and substance.

Our freedom and rights are meant to guide us live in love, truth and real justice, even if they, given our weakened human condition, involve suffering. They can only be lived properly if lived in God, and not just by our own estimations of what is good and fair.

What is needed, I think, is a real conversion of heart. And for this, a lot of prayers and sacrifices are needed. We can talk a little, try to offer reasons and arguments, but in the end, we know that conversion is an effect of grace. This is what we should ask God. Let’s hope we can rest from this useless wrangling.





Telltale Signs: Judicial chicanery in Webb & Abadilla Five cases

An article by Rodel E. Rodis published by the Asian Human Rights Commission
February 14, 2011

The Philippine Supreme Court exhibited chicanery in its February 8, 2011 decision denying “with finality” the appeal of the five men known as the “Abadilla 5” who were convicted of the ambush killing of Col. Rolando Abadilla on June 13, 1996.

In reaching this decision, the Court had to address the issue of whether to respect or reject the trial judge's determination of the credibility of witnesses. The Court also had to deal with the question of what weight to give to the forensic evidence presented or not presented in the case.

These were the same two issues addressed in the Court's December 14, 2010 decision acquitting Hubert Webb and his companions for the gang-rape and murder of 19-year-old Carmela Vizconde along with the murder of her 7-year-old sister and their mother on June 30, 1991 at their home in Paranaque City, Metro Manila.

In that decision, the majority of the SC justices rejected the trial court judge's determination that the prosecution's key witness, Jessica Alfaro, was credible.

Alfaro had testified at the court trial that she was with Webb and his friends, one of whom was her boy friend, Peter Estrada, when they went to the Vizconde home on the night of June 30, 1996 because Hubert wanted to have Carmela gang-raped for spurning his advances.

According to her testimony, Alfaro went with Hubert Webb, Antonio Lejano and Artemio Ventura inside the Vizconde home, while the others waited outside before Alfaro decided to go outside to smoke. When she returned, she said she saw Ventura rifling through a lady's bag looking for a car key, he told her. When she went to the dining area, she heard a sound in the master's bedroom and went to see what was going on.

As Justice Villarama describes it, "as she walked in, she saw Webb on top of Carmela while she lay with her back on the floor. Two bloodied bodies lay on the bed. Lejano was at the foot of the bed about to wear his jacket. Carmela was gagged, moaning, and in tears while Webb raped her, his bare buttocks exposed."

"Webb gave Alfaro a meaningful look and she immediately left the room. She met Ventura at the dining area. He told her, “Prepare an escape. Aalis na tayo.” Shocked with what she saw, Alfaro rushed out of the house to the others who were either sitting in her car or milling on the sidewalk. She entered her car and turned on the engine but she did not know where to go. Webb, Lejano, and Ventura came out of the house just then. Webb suddenly picked up a stone and threw it at the main door, breaking its glass frame."

After the three men left the Vizconde home, Alfaro said that she learned from Webb what happened. "The first to be killed was Carmela’s mother, then Jennifer, and finally, Carmella." Alfaro said that Ventura blamed Webb for killing the 7-year old sister of Carmela. Webb explained that while he was raping Carmela, the sister "jumped on him, bit his shoulders, and pulled his hair. Webb got mad, grabbed the girl, pushed her to the wall, and repeatedly stabbed her."

After the prosecution completed its case, Webb testified that he was in the US when the gang-rape occurred presenting a photocopy of his passport indicating a date of arrival in the Philippines after the heinous crime occurred. But one of the prosecution’s witnesses was a labandera (laundrywoman) of the Webb family who testified that Webb was in the Philippines when the murders occurred and that she went to Hubert’s room on the morning after the gang-rape to pick up Hubert’s clothes to wash and saw him there asleep. She said that there was blood on Hubert’s shirt as she had difficulty removing the blood stains.

The majority of the justices determined that Alfaro had inconsistencies in her testimony and, because she was an admitted drug user, she should not have been believed by the trial judge.

In his dissent, Justice Martin Villarama agreed with the trial court judge who “found Alfaro as a credible and truthful witness, considering the vast details she disclosed relative to the incident she had witnessed inside the Vizconde house. The trial court noted that Alfaro testified in a categorical, straightforward, spontaneous and frank manner, and has remained consistent in her narration of the events despite a lengthy and grueling cross-examination conducted on her by eight (8) defense lawyers.”

One of the defendants in the Webb case, police officer Gerardo Biong, was charged with being an accessory after the fact for destroying evidence at the crime scene after he was instructed by Hubert Webb to “clean” the place. Biong admitted that he stole Carmela’s jewelry and sold them to a pawnbroker obtaining 20,000 pesos for them. Alfaro was with him when he pawned Carmelita’s jewelry.

Based largely on Alfaro's eyewitness testimony, the trial court judge on January 4, 2000, found all the accused guilty as charged and imposed a penalty of life imprisonment. When the accused appealed the decision, the Court of Appeals (CA) affirmed the judgments of conviction.

In April 2010, Webb’s lawyers pursued another tact and filed an "urgent motion to acquit" after learning that that the NBI no longer had custody of the semen specimen taken from the corpse of Carmela Vizconde.

The Supreme Court acquitted Webb and his accomplices because most of the justices found Alfaro not to be a “credible” witness and because of the absence of a semen sample that could have been used for a DNA check.

In the Abadilla 5 case, the Supreme Court was faced with the same two issues but the result was markedly different.

Col. Rolando Abadilla was the head of the dreaded Military Intelligence Security Group (MISG) during the Marcos Dictatorship and the MISG (where Ping Lacson served as one of Abadilla’s top men) was notorious for its brutal torture methods and for its summary execution (“salvaging”) of suspected rebels.

On June 13, 1996, Abadilla was ambushed and killed on a Quezon City road. Soon after the killing, the Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB), a “sparrow unit” of the New People’s Army (NPA), claimed credit for the execution to avenge what it said were the “blood debts” Abadilla accumulated during the years of the Marcos regime.

Because Abadilla had boasted that NPA assassins could never kill him despite their repeated attempts to do so, Abadilla’s family refused to accept the NPA’s claim.

There was only one eyewitness to the ambush-killing of Abadilla - Freddie Alejo, a security guard who claimed that he saw the faces of the gunmen “in a fleeting and extremely stressful manner.”

Six days after the killing, the police investigators presented Alejo with a photo of Joel de Jesus whom a police officer believed was involved in the killing. No other photo was presented to Alejo. Several days later, the police picked up De Jesus and presented him to Alejo for identification. Based on the photo that he was presented with, Alejo identified De Jesus as one of the gunmen.

De Jesus was then interrogated with some of the most brutal torture tactics employed by Abadilla during the Marcos years such as suffocation with plastic bag over his head, electrocution on the genitals, water torture and raw physical abuse. The tactics forced De Jesus to cough up the names of four people he knew just to stop the torture. The four – Lenido Lumanog, Augusto Santos, Cesar Fortuna and Rameses de Jesus – were then picked up and subjected to the same torture inflicted on De Jesus until they too signed a “confession.”

After the accused were presented to the media by the police, Alejo identified them as the gunmen he said he saw at the scene.

Other than their “confessions”, there was no forensic evidence like fingerprints to tie any of the accused to the murder scene and all of them presented dozens of witnesses who testified that they were somewhere else when Abadilla was killed.

Joel de Jesus was driving his passenger tricycle in Fairview, Quezon City; Cesar Fortuna was at Camp Crame for official business and his presence was corroborated by two police officials whom he had transacted business with; Augusto Santos was at the Jose Fabella Hospital in Manila visiting his brother-in-law, Jonas Ayhon, whose wife had just given birth; and Rameses de Jesus and Lenido Lumanog had just left Manila for Mabalacat, Pampanga where they stayed until the evening of June 14.

In the course of the investigation and trial of the Abadilla 5, the Abadilla family provided witness Alejo with a job working for them at the family home. (The SC did not find this fact suspicious while finding that Alfaro's subsequent employment by the NBI as an informant made her testimony incredible).

Members of the NPA sparrow unit felt disrespected for not getting credit for their execution of Abadilla. Through a Catholic priest, Fr. Roberto Reyes, they presented police authorities with proof of their kill: Abadilla’s cal. 45 pistol and his Omega wristwatch. They also pointed out that the ballistics data collected at the crime scene indicated that the bullets matched those used in other assassinations by the NPA sparrow unit.

The Court ignored the personal testimonies of the accused and their corroborating witnesses and the NPA’s acknowledgment of the kill. Based entirely on the “eyewitness” testimony of Alejo and on their coerced confessions, the “Abadilla 5” were found guilty by Judge Jaime Salazar of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court and convicted and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life imprisonment.

After the five were convicted in 1999, they appealed their convictions and the appeal wound its way to the Supreme Court which denied their final appeal on February 8, 2011 in a 9-4 decision.

In his dissent, Justice Antonio Carpio said it was evident that the arresting officers had purposely coached Alejo into identifying De Jesus as the one who poked a gun at him while he was guarding an establishment near the crime scene. The police “primed and conditioned Alejo to identify De Jesus as one of the murderers of Abadilla.”

Carpio said Alejo admitted in his sworn statement that he could not remember the physical attributes of the gunmen – aside from two men whom he later identified as De Jesus and Lorenzo delos Santos, who was eventually acquitted of the charges.“The grave disparity between the description of the gunman in Alejo’s sworn statement and in his testimony greatly undermines (his) credibility,” he said.

In a separate dissenting opinion, Associate Justice Roberto Abad also doubted Alejo’s testimony and took note of the court’s failure to take “judicial notice” of the fact that the communist Alex Boncayao Brigade (ABB) had claimed responsibility in killing Abadilla”.

Nevertheless, the majority voted to give credence to the decision of the trial judge as he was the one who presided at the trial and could determine the credibility of Alejo. The majority justices also discounted the lack of any forensic evidence linking the accused to the crime as being immaterial compared to the “credible” testimony of the witness.

The same legal issues were involved in the two cases but the results were contradictory. Was the principle of “equal protection of the law” applied? Is it a coincidence that the Webb defendants are wealthy while the Abadilla 5 are not?

About the Author: Send comments to or mail them to the Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94127 or call 415.334.7800.





Statement on Environmental Concern

By United Church of Christ in the Philippines, East Visayas Jurisdictional Area
February 12, 2011

We, the Participants of the Community-Based Disaster Management Seminar Trainers’ Training held on February 10-12, 2011, at the UCCP, Bangcas-A, Hinunangan, Southern Leyte, comprising Church Workers and Lay Leaders coming from five (5) Conferences (NORWSECON, SIDC, NELBICON, SWLC & MASCON) under the East Visayas Jurisdictional Area of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines, do hereby collectively expressed our sincerest concern over the devastating effect of natural and human induced disasters in our localities, in particular, and the entire Region 8 including Masbate, in general;

That, in this activity, we find ourselves with commonality in so far as experiencing the adverse and dehumanizing effect of various disasters to the lives, properties and livelihood of the people in this part of our country is concerned such as drought, typhoons, flashfloods, landslide, tsunami, earthquakes, red tide, infestations, fire and armed conflict, to name a few; Thus, a mockery to our environment!

While we focus on being equipped with knowledge, attitude and skills on Community-Based Disaster Management as an alternative over traditional ways of responding disasters in varied phases, we cannot spare from recognizing, as a result of deeper reflection, that irresponsible system of exploiting God-given natural resources, such as legalized Open-Pit Mining and Large-Scale Logging and corruption are among the primary causes of disasters. We believe that these are neither caused by caprices nor God’s will, but of human greed and selfishness!

While we respect the passive and apathetic attitude of some of our co-workers, majority of our local church members and people in the wider community on this issue and concern, we still believe and hope that they can act through an informed, principled decision and moral courage to rectify and get involved!

While we recognize the response of the government by legislating R.A.10121: otherwise known as the Philippine Disasters Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010,we must remain hopeful and vigilant for its honest and consistent implementation;

We, therefore, call on the Philippine government to:



Signed on this 12th day of February, 2011 at UCCP Bangcas-A, Hinunangan, Southern Leyte.



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