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Gov’t vows to uphold free press

The Duterte administration will continue upholding press freedom, Malacañang said Tuesday, as the country marked the 12th year of the infamous Maguindanao massacre.

In a Palace press briefing, Cabinet Secretary and Acting Presidential Spokesperson Karlo Nograles pointed out it was during the current administration where key members of the powerful Ampatuan clan were found guilty of the 2009 massacre that left 58 persons, including 32 journalists, dead.

“Today we remember the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. As you may recall, under the current administration we have achieved justice for the victims of such a case after convicting those found guilty in 2019,” Nograles said.

“We continue to uphold freedom of the press,” he added.

The Philippine National Police, in a separate statement, extended prayers for the victims of what they described as a “murderous act of violence committed in the history of Philippine elections.”

“We fervently pray for the eternal repose of the souls of the departed even as we continue to wage a nationwide campaign to stem the culture of politically-motivated violence,” PNP spokesperson Col. Roderick Alba said.

“We take note of the fact that the PNP has been instrumental in serving the end of justice with the arrest of the accused held responsible for the death of 58 persons, among them 34 journalists, in this single incident of mass murder,” he added.

As the 2022 election season is now within sight, Alba said the PNP was taking early actions to foil attempts by warlord politicians to employ and mobilize private armed groups that will apply force to influence the outcome of the elections.

He said PNP would be decisive in seeking to disband and disarm these private armed groups simultaneous with interdiction operations as they will deny these PAGs the economic support systems that sustain its operations thru criminal activities such as robbery, kidnapping, drug trafficking, smuggling, illegal gambling, and other illegal ventures.

“The PNP takes shelter under the authority bestowed by Comelec as its deputized agency to meet head-on any and all threats to the May 2022 elections,” Alba said.

On Dec. 19, 2019, Judge Jocelyn Solis Reyes of Branch 221 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City convicted Datu Andal Ampatuan Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan, the masterminds of the infamous Maguindanao massacre, of 57 counts of murder and sentenced them to reclusion perpetua without parole.

A total of 28 other co-accused including police officers were also convicted of 57 counts of murder and sentenced to 40 years, while 15 other accused were sentenced to six to 10 years for being accessories to the crime.

The Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), through its Executive Director Joel Sy Egco, is united with the Filipino nation in commemorating one of the darkest moments in our history, the Maguindanao Massacre of November 23, 2009, and vowed to capture all suspects who are still at large.

“We shall relentlessly pursue suspects at large. We will not stop until all suspects behind this heinous crime are arrested,” Egco made this solemn promise in observance of the anniversary of the infamous massacre that happened 12 years ago in in Brgy. Salman, Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

On that date, a convoy of about 58 people on their way to Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao to file the certificate of candidacy of then Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu was ambushed by around one hundred armed men.

Aside from the 31 journalists and media workers, among those killed were Mangudadatu’s own wife and 2 sisters, and 12 other relatives and supporters, 2 lawyers and a father of one of the lawyers, 2 drivers, plus 6 passersby.

Egco said that five suspects have already been apprehended by the police since 2020 and are now undergoing trial.

Egco explained that many acts of violence against media practitioners happened during election season.

When asked why the country was still included in the Global Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Egco said the 10-year time frame in the computation is the reason why we are still included in the index but promised that the country will be soon out of the list.

“In connection with commemorating one of the most horrible events for journalists, we call on our honorable Senators’ approval of the Media Workers Welfare Act as an added protection for the economic vulnerability of our journos,” Egco said.

“No less than Senate President Vicente Sotto III has sponsored the bill, but it has yet to be enacted into a law.”

Egco pointed out that economic vulnerability is one the problems facing our media workers right now.

The MWWA seeks to grant journalists and media workers with hazard pay, living wage, safety equipment, security of employment plus additional insurance and hospitalization benefits.

The Maguindanao Massacre was the worst election-related violent incident in recent Philippine history and the single deadliest event for journalists in the world.

Ten years later, through the immense support of President Rodrigo Duterte, it will be recalled that on December 19, 2019, Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 221 found eight members of the Ampatuan clan and 20 others guilty for 57 counts of murder and meted them with the penalty of reclusion perpetua (up to 40 years imprisonment) without parole.

Fifteen other accused were sentenced to 6–10 years for being accessories to the crime.

Aside from former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, likewise found guilty as principals and sentenced to reclusion perpetua without parole were his brothers Datu Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr., Datu Anwar Sajid “Datu Ulo” Ampatuan, Datu Anwar “Datu Ipi” Ampatuan Jr., Insp. Saudi Mokamad, PO1 Jonathan Engid, Abedin Alamada, Talembo “Tammy” Masukat, Theng P. Sali, Manny Ampatuan, Nasser Esmael, C/Insp. Sukarno Dicay, Supt. Abusama Mundas Maguid, andSupt. Bahnarin Kamaong.

 Also found guilty were Datu Anwar Ampatuan Sr., Tato Tampogao, Mohades Ampatuan, Mohamad T. Datumanong, Misuari Ampatuan, Taya Bangkulat, Salik Bangkulat, Thong Guiamano, Sonny K. Pindi, Armando Ambalgan, Kudza Masukat Uguia, Edres Kasan, Zacaria P. Akil, and Samaon Andatuan.

The PTFoMS was created by President Duterte in 2016 to safeguard press freedom by protecting the life, liberty, and security of media workers in the country, a first in the world.

In the 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity released by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the UN body cited gains made by the Duterte administration through PTFoMS in the realm of media safety.

These include the setting up or strengthening of monitoring mechanisms to track attacks against journalists which have contributed to better reporting on the safety of journalists; the putting up of measures to prevent crimes against journalists; and the establishment of specific bodies dedicated to ensuring the prosecution of crimes against all media workers.

Topics: press freedom , Karlo Nograles , Maguindanao massacre
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