By Dexter Cabalza
Frustrated over government inaction to prosecute the suspects of Maguindanao massacre and to give due compensation, the victims’ kin turned to the United Nations (UN) for help Saturday.
Gilbert Andres, lawyer of the Media Defence – South East Asia (MD-SEA), filed a request for investigation through email to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteurs on the Protection of Freedom of Expression, on Extrajudicial Killings and on Reparations after a press conference at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.
“These UN special rapporteurs are experts on the field of human rights to declare that the numerous instances of extrajudicial killings of journalists are a gross violation of human rights,” Andres said.
It took the families four years to decide seeking help from the special rapporteurs because they thought that the Philippine government would act on the cases immediately.
“Umasa tayo na may gagawin ang ating pamahalaan, ngunit ngayon makikita na marami pa ring kaso ng extrajudicial killings (We expected the government to act on the matter but we can see that there are still a number of extrajudicial killings),” Andres added.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported at least 23 journalists killed during the first 40 months of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III in office, almost twice the number during the term of his predecessor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Under Arroyo, 12 media murders occurred during the same period from January 2001 to May 2004.
“We believe that one killing of a journalist is already a gross violation of freedom of expression, because one killing is a permanent censorship,” Andres said.
Formerly known as the South East Asia Media Legal Defence Initiative, MD-SEA is a regional non-government organization of lawyers, journalists and media activists which focuses on the defense of the media and the promotion of freedom of expression.
Atty. Harry Roque of the Center for International Law, who is one of the counsels of the Maguindanao massacre victims, said only 20 percent of the case has been resolved after four years.
Only 106 of the suspects have been arrested while 88 more are at large, most of whom are members of the Ampatuan clan and of their civilian volunteer organizations, according to Roque, who is also the country’s representative to the MD-SEA.
“[With these figures], we do not believe that the resolution of the Maguindanao massacre is a priority of the government,” he said.
Noemi Parcon, widow of Joel Parcon from Prontiera News, said it was likely to take 16 to 20 years before her husband’s case would be resolved, given the slow pace of the trial.
“We are asking the president na sana man lang 80 percent [ang matapos] bago siya bumaba sa puwesto bilang presidente ng Pilipinas. Magawa man lang niya na mapabilis ang trial (We are asking the president to accomplish at least 80 percent of the case before he left his seat as the president of the Philippines. I hope that he can hasten the trial),” she said.
The victims filed an earlier complaint through email before the UNHRC Friday, this time to ask UN to persuade the Philippine government to provide each of the families a P2-million compensation for the deaths of their “breadwinners.”
Roque invoked the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to demand reparation from the state for violation of the victims’ right to life.
The Aquino administration, however, objected to give compensation to the victims’ kin because the incident happened under Arroyo’s term.
The families of the victims filed a complaint before the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in February 2010 asking for compensation from the government. The Jakarta-based ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, however, dismissed it and forwarded it to the ASEAN Secretariat after a Philippine official declared it a “domestic issue.”
Andres said the families expect a favorable response from tapping the help of the UN special rapporteurs, citing the 2007 visit of Philip Atson, a former special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions whose work sparked reforms in the local justice system.
After Alston submitted his report, the Supreme Court designated 99 regional trial courts to hear cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, he said.
This article was first published in TNP’s Nov. 26, 2013 print issue.