Press Release
April 18, 2010

Reconsider decision to drop Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from murder case, protect journalists -- Legarda

NP-NPC-LDP Vice Presidential Candidate Senator Loren Legarda today called on the Department of Justice to reconsider its decision to drop the names of Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan and Mamasapano Mayor Akmad Ampatuan among the accused in the mass murder of 57 people in Maguindanao last November.

On February 9, 2010, Andal Ampatuan Sr., 25 other members of his family (including Zaldy and Akman Ampatuan), 65 soldiers and police officers, and 106 members of a civilian militia force were charged with 57 counts of murder. The earlier charges against Andal Ampatuan Jr. were amended to include an additional 32 counts of murder.

"Given the political context of this case, the DOJ should have left the courts to decide whether or not to proceed against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan. It shouldn't have initiated the dropping of the case against the two accused, because it sends out the wrong message about how the government is proceeding with the case, it makes it too apparent that it is choosing sides," Legarda said.

According to Legarda, who was a successful broadcast journalist before she entered politics, "This attitude perpetrates the culture of impunity that has made the Philippines the world's deadliest place for journalists. Since the 1980s, we have seen government officials involved in killing journalists getting away scot-free. In many instances, government is doing absolutely nothing about this. And now, the Department of Justice secretary, who is the alter-ego of the President, drops the charges of murder against influential politicians in the worst election-related violence in the country. This is a big blow against our freedom of the press."

Thirty-one of the 57 murdered in the Maguindanao Massacre were journalists. In 2009, both the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Federation of Journalists named the Philippines as the most dangerous place for journalists.

Legarda said that the "The recent action of the DOJ has a demoralizing impact to journalists who are just doing their job in unearthing information and educating the public. In a democratic country such as ours, we need a vibrant, dynamic press to promote accountability and transparency in governance."

"Regardless of whether the Department of Justice drops the names of the two accused or not, the court can and will still decide whether or not to proceed against them. It is the court that has the ascendancy and higher authority to decide whether it will proceed against them or not," Legarda said.

She also calls for heightened protection for journalists especially now that it's the election period, and to be vigilant against all forms of election-related violence.

Loren has authored the Journalist Welfare and Protection Act to mandate media outfits to offer better compensation and benefits package for their reporters. She has also authored a bill to impose harsher penalties on murder of journalists, penalizing it under Article 248 of the Revised Penal Code ranging from reclusion perpetua to death sentence.

"While our media professionals work hard to bring the truth to people and keep watch of anomalies in the government, we in the legislative front must ensure their protection and welfare," she concluded.

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