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An appeal to UNESCO

MS. AUDREY AZOULAY

Director General

UNESCO

7 Fontenoy Place

Paris, France

 

Re: Classification of Ampatuan massacre case

 

 

Dear Madam:

 

Greetings from the Philippines! We hope this letter finds you safe and well during such difficult times.

 

We – the families of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan massacre, as well as media groups, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens who have stood with them in their continuing search for justice – wish to express our distress and disappointment as news reports, including from government media, have called attention to UNESCO’s classification of the entire case as “resolved” and citing this as an accomplishment of the Duterte administration and its efforts to protect journalists.  

We refer you to the following articles, including one from the state-run Philippine News Agency, which marks it as a press release from the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) in the Malacañang Palace:

https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1114216

https://www.philstar.com/nation/2020/09/04/2040042/maguindanao-massacre-resolved-unesco?fbclid=IwAR299M5YoFOZmfLGYYycrbpP9ogFBkyIxguej81IJdrMchoxL3VliFt0jPU

https://newsline.ph/top-stories/2020/09/07/unesco-classifies-ampatuan-massacre-case-as-resolved/?fbclid=IwAR299M5YoFOZmfLGYYycrbpP9ogFBkyIxguej81IJdrMchoxL3VliFt0jPU

These news reports quote from a letter that former Assistant Director General Moez Chackchouk apparently wrote to Ambassador Theresa Lazaro, Philippine Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and Philippine Ambassador to France, to wit: “I am pleased to confirm that we will classify these as resolved, both in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists and in the 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists.”

We acknowledge that the court decision on December 19, 2019, which convicted 28 of the accused of planning and carrying out that most gruesome crime – and 15 others as accessories – was a triumph of justice for the victims of the worst incident of electoral violence in Philippine history, and the deadliest single attack on journalists in the world.

Regrettably, that one court decision does not mean that the case is “resolved.” Far from it.

First, while there has been a verdict, the Ampatuan convictions can still be and, in fact, have been appealed. Brothers Zaldy Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan, Jr. have filed their appeals before the Court of Appeals, while another brother, Anwar Ampatuan, and his two sons, Anwar Ampatuan, Jr. and Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, have appealed before the trial court that convicted them.

Second, nearly 80 more suspects, 15 of them surnamed Ampatuan, remain at large more than a decade after the mass murder. All of them should be tried, but as of February 20, 2020, only four, two of them policemen, have been arrested and are on trial. Another principal accused, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, brother of Zaldy, Andal Jr. and Anwar Ampatuan, was acquitted even if he was present at the meeting when the massacre was planned. He is now an incumbent mayor of a town in Maguindanao province, where the massacre happened.

This is the reason why the families of the 32 journalists who perished, as well as the witnesses who testified for the prosecution, continue to fear for their safety. As many are not enrolled in the Department of Justice’s witness protection program, and continue to live in their known communities, they remain exposed to possible retaliation and attacks.

Third, the victims' families, and we who have been with them throughout their difficult struggle, still cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that, while the court, more than three years into the trial, allowed the inclusion of photojournalist Reynaldo "Bebot" Momay among the victims –bringing the total count to 58 even if his body was never found – only issued convictions for 57 counts of murder, dashing the hopes of justice for Momay’s family.

It is also important to note that, in January 2015, criminal charges were filed before the Maguindanao provincial prosecutor against 49 other persons, including local government officials and police officers, for their alleged participation in the planning, execution, and subsequent cover-up of the Ampatuan massacre. Although these charges have yet to be resolved by the prosecutor, we understand that the lawyers of the victims’ families intend to pursue these cases.

It is unfortunate that UNESCO's conclusion appears to have relied solely upon government claims, without consideration for the other facts and contexts surrounding the case -- a glaring oversight, considering that many of us have good relations and work closely with your agency's Jakarta, Bangkok, and other offices.

We are most distressed that Mr. Chackchouk's letter is now being used by the Duterte administration to paint a misleading picture of the state of press freedom in the country. For example, Undersecretary Joel Egco, the executive director of PTFOMS, has said: “With UNESCO acknowledging the finality of the Ampatuan Massacre, we can proudly proclaim to the world that any violence against our media workers will never go unpunished, and that the so-called ‘culture of impunity’ against journalists in the country has finally come to an end.”

Lest it be forgotten, of the 188 journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986, 16 have lost their lives under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has not bothered to hide his disdain for free and independent media. Duterte led the charge to shut down ABS-CBN, the country's largest broadcast network. His government continues to hound independent online news outfit Rappler and its founder and CEO Maria Ressa with dubious legal cases. His national security advisers have incessantly tagged news outfits and journalists who have criticized the government as allies or pawns of “terrorists.” This is a particular source of concern, in view of the recent enactment of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law. We hope that UNESCO will not play into the attempts to “sanitize” the reputation of the Duterte government among international agencies in view of the pending scrutiny of the President by the International Criminal Court.

UNESCO is known for looking at complex issues with a wide lens. In this instance, the wide lens fails to reflect the legal processes and ignores the pertinent issues which delay justice in the system. We recommend reviewing this wide lens as it applies to the Ampatuan trial and the court decision in 2019 so as not to betray the hopes of the families of the victims who are still awaiting justice.

We, the undersigned, respectfully call upon your office to proactively exercise its mandate by doing due diligence and complete staff work on this matter to ensure that declarations about these cases reflect the reality on ground. In this way, UNESCO could arrive at a balanced and comprehensive assessment of press freedom and freedom of expression in general in the Philippines, beginning with thorough consultations with key stakeholders, and not only State officials.

We would be most grateful for your attention and consideration as this is a matter of utmost concern.

Many thanks. In the meantime, please be assured of our esteem and continuing support.

With best wishes,

Organizational Signatories

Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) - Ray Paolo J. Santiago, Executive Director

Bulatlat.com

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) - Melinda Quintos-De Jesus, Executive Director

Davao Today - Lucelle Bonzo, Executive Director

Digital News Exchange - Julius D. Mariveles, Executive Editor

Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) - Liza Garcia, Executive Director

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) - Niza Concepcion, Communications Officer

Journalism Studies Association of the Philippines (JSAP)

Mindanao News Express - Michael Navarro, CEO / Executive Publisher

MindaNews - Carolyn O. Arguillas, Editor in Chief

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) - Nonoy Espina, Chairperson

Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) - Rosemarie Trajano, Secretary General 

Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) - Floreen Simon, Officer-in-Charge

Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS), Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, MPH, DrPH

Philippine Press Institute (PPI) - Ariel Sebellino, Executive Director

Philippines Communication Society

University of the Philippines Department of Journalism

VERA Files - Ellen Tordesillas, Board of Trustees President

Individual Signatories

Abdul Manan – Chairman, Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia

Albert C. Lee - Freelance Journalist

Alisandra E. Abadia - Kabataan Para Sa Karapatan Negros Oriental

Anne Krueger  - Paghimutad Negros

Anthony (Anton) M. Juan, Jr., Ph.D - Full Professor / Theatre and Film Director & Playwright, University of Notre Dame

Antonio G. M. La Viña - Professor of Constitutional Law, University of the Philippines College of Law

Antonio J Montalvan II – Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer

Asuncion Benitez-Rush

Bambina Olivares

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com

Benjamin de la Peña

Berlita Ante – Spokesperson, Kadamay Negros

Bernardino P. Testa - Former President, Press Photographer of the Philippines

Bryan Bosque – Chairperson, Anakbayan Panay

Camille Diola - Philstar.com

Carlos Conde – Human Rights Watch

Carmela Fonbuena - Freelance Journalist; The Guardian

Catalina Ricci Madarang - Interaksyon

Che Sarigumba - Writer/Journalist

Checcs O. Orbida - Vice President, PeacePond Farmers Association

Chickoy Pura - Musician/Songwriter, The Jerks 

Chito Quijano - Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)

Chris Sorio – Chairperson, BAYAN-Canada

Cindy Domingo – Chair, LELO/A Legacy of Equality Leadership and Organizing United States

Clarizza Singson - Secretary General, KARAPATAN Negros Island

Clement C. Camposano – President, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty member, University of the Philippines Diliman

Crimson Labinghisa - Coordinator, Kabataan Partylist Panay

Cristina Palabay - Secretary General, KARAPATAN

Dana Batnag

Danilo Arao - Associate Editor, Bulatlat.com

Danilo dela Fuente - Vice Chairperson, SELDA

Danilo Fabella - Songwriter/Performer, Musikangbayan

Danilo Tabura – Spokesperson, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Negros

Diego Malacad - Secretary General, Undoc-Piston

Dinah Tapiah Roma

Dr. Vicente Rafael - Professor of History, University of Washington

Dr. Rachel A.G. Reyes

Edeliza Hernandez - Medical Action Group (MAG)

Edgar Cadagat – Journalist

Edna Aquino - Human rights advocate

Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV - Philstar.com

Elizabeth Gonzales - Private citizen 

Elizabeth L. Enriquez - Board Member and Treasurer, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty Member, University of the Philipines Diliman

Elmer Forro - Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Panay

Emmanuel Amistad - Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP) 

Emmanuelle Duterte, MD

Ereneo Longinos - Deputy Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros

Erlinda Cadapan - Chairperson, Desaparacidos

Eunice Barbara C. Novio - Journalist / OFW

Evangeline Hernandez – Chairperson, Hustisya

Fe Mangahas

Felipe Gelle - Deputy Secretary General, September 21 Movement

Francis Allan L. Angelo - Daily Guardian

Franco Luna - Philstar.com

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

Gianna Montinola

Gino Lopez - Paghimutad Negros 

Grace Morales - JUSTICE NOW (the organization of families of the 32 slain journalists)

Hannah Papasin - Managing Editor, Digital News Exchange 

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com

Inday Espina-Varona - Journalist

Jaileen Jimeno - Journalist

Jaira Balboa - Philstar.com

Jairo Bolledo - NUJP; Department of Journalism Polytechnic University of the Philippines

James Relativo - Philstar.com

Jane Worthington – Director, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific

Janess Ann J. Ellao – Bulatlat.com

Jeline Malasig - Interaksyon

Jennie Arado – Editor, SunStar Davao

Jerbert Briola - Human Rights Online Philippines

Jervis Manahan - News Reporter, ABS-CBN News

Jesson Reyes - Managing Director, Migrants Resource Centre Canada

Jet C. Orbida – President, PeacePond Farmers Association

Joel Pablo Salud - Writer/Journalist

John “Butch” Lozande - Secretary General, National Federation of Sugar Workers

John Ian Alenciaga – Coordinator, Altermidya Panay

Jojo Riñoza - Freelance Photojournalist

Jonathan Basanta García - Profesor de Español, Cencias Sociales y Teoría del Conocimiento 

Jonathan De Santos - Philstar.com

Joseph Bernard Marzan - Daily Guardian

Judy Taguiwalo - Former Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development

Julianne Balora – Spokesperson, Kabataan Partylist Negros

Juluis A. Dagatan - Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros

Jyasmin M. Calub-Bautista - Assistant Professor, Department of Development Journalism, College of Development Communication, UP Los Baños

Karl De Mesa - Freelance Journalist

Kaye M. Casimero - Anakbayan Western Visayas State University

Kristine Daguno-Bersamina - Philstar.com

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

Kristofer Purnell - Philstar.com

Kriztine R. Viray - Philippines Communication Society

Lila Ramos Shahani - Former Secretary-General, Philippine National Commission for UNESCO

Lisa Ito - Secretary General, Concerned Artists of the Philippines

Lisandro Claudio - Assistant Professor, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley

Lorenzo Tañada III - Former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives

Lui Queano – Coordinator, Malaya Canada

Luisa Morales - Philstar.com

Ma. Arve B. Bañez - University Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas

Ma. Diosa Labiste - Board Member, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty Member, University of the Philippines Diliman

Mae Paner - Artist / Cultural worker

Malcolm Guy - Documentary filmmaker; President, Productions Multi-Monde Inc.

Manuel Mogato - Journalist

Marchel Espina - NUJP Bacolod

Marden Jalandoon - Secretary General, Gabriela Negros

Maria Jovita Zarate - Board Member and Secretary, Philippine Studies Association; Senior Lecturer, University of the Philippines Open University

Maria Karina Africa Bolasco - Book Publisher

Marianito Amacan – Spokesperson, Kilusang Mayo Uno Negros

Marie Boti - Documentary filmmaker; President, Diffusion Multi-Monde Inc.

Marizon B. Esquela - Private citizen 

Mary Ann M. Arnado - Secretary General, Mindanao Peoples Caucus

Mate Espina – Columnist, The Visayan Daily Star

Melanie Morrison - Project Manager, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific

Mia Magdalena Capuyan Fokno - Baguio Chronicle

Michael Jobert Navallo – Reporter, ABS-CBN News

Mideo M Cruz - Artist

Milo Paz - Writer/Filmmaker

Monet Pura - Band manager, The Jerks 

Monina Gulmatico – Spokesperson, Migrante Negros

Nilda Lagman – Sevilla - Co-Chairperson, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND)

Noel C. Esquela - HR, Migrants, and Overseas Absentee Voting advocate

Oscar V. Campomanes - Ateneo de Manila University

Pastor Jec Borlado - Program Director, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches

Patricia Depra – Coordinator, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Negros Island Region

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com

Paulynn Paredes Sicam - Freelance journalist; Editor, Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN)

Pepito “Pete” Pico – Spokesperson, Movement Against Tyranny Negros

Priscilla Goco - Partido Manggagawa Negros

Ramon Guillermo – Professor, Center for International Studies (CIS) UP Diliman

Ratna Ariyanti - South East Asia Coordinator, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com

Red Batario - Center for Community Journalism and Development

Remmon E. Barbaza, Ph.D. - Department of Philosophy, Ateneo de Manila University

Renato M. Reyes, Jr. - Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan

Rev. Fr. Julian Jagudilla, OFM - Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)

Rev. Joy Tajonera - Director, Ugnayan Migrant Ministry

Rev. Luis Daniel Alba Pantoja, BA, MA, ThM - Peacebuilding Missionary

Reylan Vergara - Secretary General, Panay Alliance Karapatan

Rhea Gamana - Secretary-General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Canada

Rico Foz - Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)

Rigie O. Malinao – Convenor, Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan (KATAPAT)

RJ Ledesma – Chairperson, League of Filipino Students Bacolod

Romana P. de los Reyes - Environmentalist

Rommel F. Lopez - PressONE.ph

Ronald U. Mendoza, Ph.D. – Dean, Ateneo School of Government

Rosario Liquicia - Trustee/Editor, VERA Files

Rosette Adel - Interaksyon

Rowel C. Montes - Program Director, Sunshine Radio Tacloban

Siegfred Deduro - Vice President for Visayas, MAKABAYAN Panay

Sr. Aquila Sy - Presentation Sisters

Susan Jaro - Promotion of Church People's Response

Susan Roxas - Private citizen 

Susan Severino Lara - Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas

Taher Guiambangan Solaiman - Journalist

Ted Aldwin Ong - Journalist

Tess Bacalla - Project Lead, Asia Democracy Chronicles

Tita Valderama - Journalist

Tomasito T. Talledo – Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas, Miag-ao, Iloilo Campus

Tyrone Velez – Columnist, SunStar Davao

Very Rev. Marco Sulayao – Chairperson, Promotion of Church People's Response Panay and Guimaras

Victor Kintanar – Photojournalist, Licas.News

Walden Bello - Former Congressman; Professor, The State University of New York at Binghamton; National Chairperson of Laban ng Masa

Weldon M. McCarty - Writer

Wilson Gamboa Jr. – Councilor, Bacolod City

Woodrow Francia - Journalist

Ysh Cabana - Stop the Killings in the Philippines-Canada Network

cc:

Michelle Bachelet

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Agnes Callamard

UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Irene Khan

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Peggy Hicks

Senior Director, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights

(Lead on Violence Against Journalists Strategy)

Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi

Chief of Section, Section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists

Ming Lim Kuok

UNESCO Jakarta

Moek Chackchouck

Former Assistant Director General, Communications and Information, UNESCO

 

Christine Delsol

Executive Assistant to Former ADG Chackchouk

Grace Morales

JUSTICE NOW (the organization of families of the 32 slain journalists)

Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network Conveners

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, MindaNews, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Philippine Press Institute

Topics: Ampatuan massacre , journalist , Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism , UNESCO
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