Panelo as spokesman: Bad signal for seekers of truth, justice


Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the country’s next President, has appointed defense lawyer Salvador Panelo as his spokesman.

Presidential transition teams usually vet nominees. Maybe, Duterte, who got Panelo to represent him during the public lynching stage-managed by Sen. Antonio Trillanes, feels he knows the lawyer well enough to forego of the vetting process.

Mr. Duterte chose wrong. Journalists and media groups are telling him so. As have the families of the media victims in the Nov. 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre.

maguindanao-massacre

“Hindi ako komportable. Hindi tama (I am not comfortable. This is not right),” said Mary Grace Morales on behalf of other families of our fallen colleagues.

“Parang alam na namin saan patungo ang kaso (We know where the case is headed),” Morales, whose husband Rosell, circulation manager of the community paper, News Focus, died in the massacre, said.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) quoted Morales as saying, “Kung sya (Panelo) na talaga, hindi na ako aasa na may mangyayari pa sa kaso na ito (If he is really appointed, I will no longer hope for progress in this case),” she added.

Duterte campaigned on the promise to rid the Philippines of criminals and abusive government officials. Few clans are more abusive than the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Read: THE AMPATUAN MASSACRE: BECAUSE THEY COULD (IMPUNITY IN THE PHILIPPINES)

Ampatuan-621x446
Andal Ampatuan, Jr., a principal suspect in the Maguindanao Massacre. Photo from the AsianCorrespondent

Panelo was a defense lawyer for the Ampatuan massacre principals. He withdrew as counsel for Andal Ampatuan Jr. in December last year.

The NUJP expressed serious misgivings on his appointment as spokesman. It noted the “possible implications on the trial of those accused of what is acknowledged as the single deadliest attack on the press in history and one of the worst incidents of electoral violence in the country.”

I am a member of the NUJP, one of its former chairpersons. While the statement was right on most points, a tougher call is in order.

Mayor Duterte must rethink his appointment of Panelo

paneloDo you see this quote, sir?

 

More than 50 people died, most of them hapless journalists. It was a MASSACRE of civilians.

Unarmed civilians, many of them women, one of them a lawyer who worked with the poor. A massacre, sir. The single, most vicious attack on journalists ever, worldwide. And it happened in your beloved Mindanao.

ampatuan-massacre

One can be a defense lawyer and protect suspects’ rights.

It is another thing to peddle the lies of killers, the worst of murderers.

Panelo described the charges as fabricated.

F A B R I C A T E D.

That speaks of his affinity to truth — an ocean separates him and truth.

This is the man who will be your spokesman?

There are, what… 6,000 positions? Put him somewhere where his presence does not taint the search for justice.

Other media groups have also raised opposition to Panelo’s appointment.

Philippines Graphic editor in chief, Joel Pablo Salud said:

I can already see where the Ampatuan case will be going with your choice, Mr. President, of a spokesperson. While I believe and will fight for people’s rights to have their day in court, lies like this one do not help the cause of justice. I suggest you find someone else to stand as your voice to the people because by this statement alone, this man could endanger your presidency even before it starts.

National Press Club president Paul Gutierrez said it would be difficult for journalists to work with Panelo.

“Members of the press would find it hard to interact, and work with, a press secretary whose main client are the suspects in the wholesale murder of the members of the press that has outraged the entire world,” Gutierrez said.

“We understand certain debts owed during the election season need to be paid, but for a candidate who won overwhelmingly on a promise that change is coming, this is not the refreshing wind of change our clients sorely need now,” said Romel Regalado Bagares, Executive Director,Center for International Law.

“The choice is uninspired, to say the least. But it is clear it does not really understand the gravity of what happened on Nov. 23, 2009 on a hill in Sitio Masalay, Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Sadly, it is a choice that does attack not impunity decisively but rather, perpetuates it,” the lawyer and journalist said.

 

 

 

 

The Ampatuan Massacre: BECAUSE THEY COULD (Impunity in the Philippines)


keep the story alive“THE KILLERS WANT YOU TO FORGET. #KeepTheStoryAlive.”

The joint by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have come out with a report.

The joint mission was among the activities undertaken in November 2014 by media groups as the Philippines commemorated the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre, the world’s single most deadly attack on journalists.

The introduction to the report gives a stark summary of the massacre and a capsule analysis of why it happened:

On November 23, 2009, the Philippines showed to the world in the most horrific way what impunity looks like.

The slaughter of 58 people – including 32 journalists – in an “unprecedented act of political violence” in Southern Mindanao was, and is, the single biggest killing of media workers in history. The scene described by journalist Nonoy Espina was that of a “cake of death”; bodies and vehicles piled and squashed into crude mass graves.

The horrifying massacre in Maguindanao shocked and sickened the world. How could this supposedly strong Asian democracy with such a vibrant and robust press play host to an audacious and brutal bloodbath of this scale? How could the killers think that no-one would notice; that life could continue on, business as usual?

The fact is they did. And they did because that was the way it had come to be in the Philippines.

You can read the full report HERE.

(DISCLOSURE: I wrote Chapter 5 of the report. I chaired the NUJP from 2004-2006 and remain a member of the organisation.)

On the cover: The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines created an art installation at the Bantayog ng Bayani in Quezon City to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the largest mass murder of journalists in history. The “Monument to the Heroes” is a landscaped memorial centre honouring individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986. The installation re-created the massacre of November 23, 2009, in Maguindanao in Southern Philippines, which saw 58 people killed, including 32 journalists. The body figures were crafted from newspapers and re-create the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre. Leeroy New, an artist, helped visualise the crime scene. He said: “Our use of newspapers to re-enact the crime scene is in fact a direct reference to how the issue is slowly disappearing. And how the material – the newspaper as a material – is a very transient material. And it’s also a direct reference to the victims – the journalists who were killed.” The agency behind the idea was BBDO Guerrero which provides the NUJP with pro bono support for its ongoing campaigns against journalist killings and impunity."
On the cover:
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines created an
art installation at the Bantayog ng Bayani in Quezon City to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre – the largest mass murder of journalists in history.
The “Monument to the Heroes” is a landscaped memorial centre honouring individuals who lived and died in defiance of the repressive regime that ruled over the Philippines from 1972 to 1986.
The installation re-created the massacre of November 23, 2009, in Maguindanao in Southern Philippines, which saw 58 people killed, including 32 journalists. The body figures were crafted from newspapers and re-create the image that ran on the front page of a newspaper the day after the massacre.
Leeroy New, an artist, helped visualise the crime scene. He said: “Our use of newspapers to re-enact the crime scene is in fact a direct reference to how the issue is slowly disappearing. And how the material – the newspaper as a material – is a very transient material. And it’s also a direct reference to the victims – the journalists who were killed.”
The agency behind the idea was BBDO Guerrero which provides the NUJP with pro bono support for its ongoing campaigns against journalist killings and impunity.”

WHO OWNS THAT BACKHOE? (Revisiting the Ampatuan Massacre)


Who doesn’t?

Only those who did not kowtow, did not pander, did not channel funds and arms to the Ampatuans of Maguindanao.

Only those who refused to keep silent as the clan harassed and burned and killed to wrest control of lands to annex for their kingdom.

Only those who did not bargain away people’s lives and rights for a slot in command tickets come election time.

Photo from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Photo from the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

We must grieve and call for justice on behalf of 58 persons retrieved from under Maguindanao’s soil. We must never forget the carnage of November 23, 2009.

Yet neither should we overlook the precedents and the acts of commission and omission that built the perfect scenario for the Ampatuan massacre.

Context is everything. Until we address the roots of the massacre, we will keep on counting the lives the sacrificed on the altar of greed and power.

THIS WHAT IMPUNITY IS ALL ABOUT – “too much power, too little accountability”.

AMPATUAN NEWThe Ampatuan massacre did not spring from a vacuum. The weak Philippine state has long provided rich soil for the seeds of carnage. A day after the massacre, I retrieved a 2007 interview of then Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao governor Zaldy Ampatuan by MindaNews’ Carol Arguillas.

Here is Ampatuan unfiltered:

“Actually, Maguindanao province is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga. Here in Maguindanao, considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed, these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents are all allies of the administration.”

Arguillas’ interview was largely about the Ampatuan clan’s all-out support for Mrs. Arroyo in the 2007 elections. Following the 2009 massacre — around the time politicians were registering as contenders for the 2010 polls — the country woke up to find just what underpinned this support:

  • Free flow of arms and ammunition from the Armed Forces of the Philippines
  • Governance dictated by only a few privileged persons
  • Governance implemented according to the needs of these privileged persons
  • The resulting absence of government services – from courts to health to education
  • Years of public monies being diverted into the pockets of local warlords – who then pay back the favor by mowing down anyone opposed to their patrons
AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo credit should read TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Around a hundred men implemented that act of mayhem, which also holds the record for the world’s deadliest attack on journalists. It was no ordinary band of “bandits”. The perpetrators were led Shariff Aguak Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and a senior police office, Sr. Inspector Dicay. They brought practically the entire security apparatus of Shariff Aguak and, presumably, Ampatuan town.  This was a hydra — and its creator wasn’t just then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The Ampatuan monster was birthed by a cabal of powerful political and economic clans who had for years paid homage to warlords, nurtured them, allowed them to raid the state treasury and turned a blind eye to mounting reports of rights violations, and neglect of the most basic of government services.

An Inquirer.Net report states:

“The Ampatuans and Mangudadatus have reigned in Maguindanao politics since 1986 when the revolutionary government of then President Corazon Aquino appointed officers-in-charge to local elective posts of mayors, municipal, provincial and village legislators, as well as governors and their deputies.

The patriarchs of both clans— Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. and Datu Pua Mangudadatu —were appointed mayors of their respective municipalities, Maganoy (now Shariff Aguak) and Buluan, Maguindanao.

The two men never lost an election and their children have also entered politics and emerged winners, too. Many saw their political careers thrive in the positions they have held, among them, Governor Zaldy Uy Ampatuan of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, and incumbent Buluan town Vice-Mayor Esmael Toto Mangudadatu, who is now said to be running for Maguindanao governor, the post to be left by Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr. to his son, Andal Jr.”

A 2008 report of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism notes that the Ampatuans consolidated power since 2001.

The 1987 Constitution bans private armed groups. In July 2006, however, the Arroyo administration issued Executive Order 546, allowing local officials and the PNP to deputize barangay tanods as “force multipliers” in the fight against insurgents. In practice, the EO allows local officials to convert their private armed groups into legal entities with a fancy name: civilian volunteer organizations (CVO).

That probably sounds familiar to many Filipinos across the country. Even today, as the 2016 election fever starts, we hear about “force multipliers”. We also have continuing reports of political murders, including those targeting journalists, judges, activists and lawyers.

No Accountability

Slide1The funds that underwrote the Ampatuan empire belonged to the people. These funds were stolen systematically through the years.

It was easy to divert the money because close to a quarter of the Philippine national budget has always been available for leaders to dispense according to their whims.

It was easy to divert because in the filthy bed of pigs that normally goes by the name of Congress, members neglect oversight tasks in return for favors that allow them to perpetuate power through generations of entitled individuals.

It was easy to divert because when people are poor and hungry and they face the barrels of guns, they are easily cowed. So instead of fighting for their due, they accept crumbs from the lords’ tables.

The weak cannot be faulted for propping up the mighty. Not when their “betters” — those who think they know better – are equally guilty of sacrificing principles for political exigencies.

The coerced can be forgiven their meekness. Those who play with the levers of power, in the hope that they can influence the outcome of events, come out with splatters of blood in their hands.

You see, the Ampatuan massacre isn’t just about one town, one province, one region. It is not the only massacre that highlights the seed of carnage. Only when those who can stand between the guns and the cowed populace speak out and walk their talk can we even begin to hope to rid the national soil of the toxins of impunity.