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
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
A Press Statement by
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
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
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
9 massacre in 2003 in Brgy. Mahayag, Kananga, Leyte, and third is the
Palo Massacre in 2005 in San Agustin, Palo,
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.
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
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,
By FR. ROY CIMAGALA, firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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”.
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
About the Author: Send comments to Rodel50@aol.com or mail them to the
Law Offices of Rodel Rodis at 2429 Ocean Avenue, San Francisco, CA
94127 or call 415.334.7800.
By United Church of
Christ in the Philippines, East Visayas Jurisdictional Area
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
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
We, therefore, call on
the Philippine government to:
SCRAP MINING ACT OF
LOGGING AND OTHER ANTI-PEOPLE AND ENVIRONMENTALLY DESTRUCTIVE
Signed on this 12th
day of February, 2011 at UCCP Bangcas-A, Hinunangan,