Press Release
April 21, 2010

Loren backs press groups, prosecutors
in condemning DOJ Ampatuan decision

NP-NPC-LDP Vice Presidential Candidate Senator Loren Legarda supports press groups and prosecutors in condemning the Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary's 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.

In a press conference yesterday, Legarda told media reporters that the political and social context of the case demands that the court, which has the authority and higher ascendancy to resolve criminal actions, should be allowed to decide whether or not to proceed against the Ampatuans, especially since it has even already determined there was probable cause to arrest and detain them.

Quezon City Regional Trial Court Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes has already issued warrants of arrest and detainment orders against the Ampatuans.

Legarda questions the DOJ's expeditious resolution of the case against the two Ampatuans, whose charges were dropped even before they got arraigned by court. "There are a lot of pending petitions filed before the Department of Justice even before the Ampatuan massacre. And while they remain pending for review by the department, the Ampatuans got a special treatment and an expedited favorable ruling. Why is there a double standard in the justice system? I challenge the DOJ to expedite the case of hundreds of political prisoners. That is what they should resolve first."

"Yung mga nabubulok na sa kulungan ng ilang dekada, na mahihirap at hindi kaya mag-abogado o mag-bayad ng bail dahil sila'y biktima ng political prosecution, yan ang i-review ng madalian. Yun ang dapat tignan ng DOJ. Hindi yung malalaking political warlords na mga maaaring may kinalaman sa pinaka-karumal-dumal na krimen sa kasaysayan ng ating bansa," she said.

Legarda also said that the acting DOJ secretary's connection with the Ampatuans cannot be considered as a mere coincidence. Acting DOJ Secretary Alberto Agra was once an election lawyer for the Ampatuans, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Vice President Noli de Castro.

Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan and 25 other members of their family (including Andal Ampatuan Jr., the main accused), were charged of 57 counts of murder last February 9, 2010, along with 65 soldiers and police officers, and 106 members of a civilian militia force.

"The decision to drop the case against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan, and the fishy circumstances behind it confirm suspicions that government is bent on acquitting the Ampatuans from one of the most brutal election-related violence in Philippine history," Legarda said.

According to Legarda, who was a successful broadcast journalist before she entered politics, "This attitude of government regarding the Ampatuans 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, 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 calls on government to heighten its guard against election-related violence, especially those committed against media practitioners.

"In a democratic government, an independent and dynamic press is necessary to promote transparency and accountability in governance. This cannot happen if we continue letting media murderers on the loose. Not only will this be an injustice against the victims, but it will also send out a terribly wrong message that it's okay to kill media practitioners,"

Legarda said. Legarda 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.

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