CHICAGO – The Maguindanao massacre happened two years ago, but the wheel of justice in the Philippines is grinding so slowly that so far nobody is convicted in connection with the world’s biggest mass murder of journalists perpetrated during a single incident.
Meanwhile, the survivors of 58 massacre victims, 32 of them Filipino media workers are trying to attend court hearings of the case in Manila while they are also trying to make both ends meet. [box type=”default” size=”large”] Justice delayed is justice denied. — Legal maxim [/box] Private institutions, mostly media organizations, and the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo contributed money and in kind to the survivors, but the contributions were not enough for their needs as well as the education of their children.
Some press organizations here in the United States — like the Committee to Protect Journalists based in New York; the NPC-Phil.-U.S.A., which I used to head; the Chicago Journalists Association headed by Allen Rafalson; the Filipino Press Group of Sydney represented by Jaime K. Pimentel; and the Philippine Press Club of Ontario represented by Tenny Soriano — chipped in with donations but the contributions are not enough.
Even non-media groups like the Philippine Medical Association of Chicago (PMAC) and Auxiliary Medical Foundation (PAMF), upon the representations of former PMAC president Dr. Nunilo Rubio and his wife Dr. Elenita Rubio, former PAMF president, got in the act. It was suggested to former PMAC president Dr. Roger Cave and outgoing and incoming PMAC Presidents Dr. Emma Salazar and Dr. Ed Hernaez, respectively, to make an exception to its scholarship program by granting Miss Julia Mae Reblando, daughter of Bong Reblando who was one of the massacred journalists, an annual $500 scholarship until she completes her journalism course in the Philippines.
Veronica Leighton and Joe Mauricio, owners of Via Times and CPR-TV, respectively, broached the idea to the R`ubios. Via Times columnist Elsie O. Sy-Niebar also urged the Rubios to lend a helping hand.
Dr. Gerardo Guzman, PMACAMF secretary, told me that the board has approved the proposal for Miss Reblando’s annual scholarship grant of $500, an amount which is usually given yearly to two to four scholars in Chicago area. Miss Reblando met with the Rubios while she was here in Chicago, accompanied by her widowed mother, Myrna P. Reblando. She was here to receive a one-time $1,000 scholarship grant from CJA.
Miss Reblando will be eligible to receive her PMAC/PAMF scholarship when she enrolls in college next year. She is the youngest daughter of Bong, who was a staff reporter of the Manila Bulletin and correspondent for some international wire services. He was one of the 32 journalists, who were shot and killed and whose remains were hastily buried in a mass grave in Maguindanao.
Gov. Rolando E. Yebes of Zamboanga del Norte, who was in Chicago last Nov. 13, told me that he will suggest to his friend and neighbor, Filipino boxing legend and Sarangani Rep. Manny Pacquiao, to extend his philanthropic endeavors to the survivors of the Maguindanao massacre. It was noted that as Pacquiao was based in General Santos City, most of those massacre journalists promoted his career by writing stories about his exploits as well as his homecomings as a conquering boxing hero.
I suggest to Pacquiao that his foundation buys insurance policies for journalists covering danger zones not only in Mindanao but also all over the Philippines.
Rep. Cesar G. Jalosjos (3rd district, Zamboanga del Norte), who was also in Chicago last Nov. 13, told me he is hopeful the trial of the suspects in the massacre will soon be over. This would enable the “survivors to collect civil damages due them,” he said.
But my friend, former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, sent to me last Nov. 16 an email dampening the enthusiasm of Congressman Jalosjos, who will be running for governor of Zamboanga del Norte in the 2013 elections.
Pimentel said, “Up to this writing, no verdict has yet been rendered (in the Maguindanao massacre case). And under the circumstances, unless a miracle happens, none may be expected in the next year or two.”
A brilliant lawyer, Pimentel said, “As of last week, the prosecution and the defense panels were reportedly squabbling over the number of days every week that should be set aside for the trial of the case.
“The trial judge had apparently set two days a week for the hearing of the case.
“A member of the defense panel is said to have suggested that one more day should be added to the two-day-a-week trial dates.
“Surprisingly, a prosecutor reportedly retorted that another day would be unacceptable because she had other cases to attend to. Surprisingly because usually in the practice of law, it is the defense — especially if they have no defense at all — that would use all dilatory tactics to postpone the trial of cases until doomsday.
“By doing so, it is hoped that their clients would get acquitted simply by wearing out the complainants, their witnesses and the prosecution.”
But instead of the prosecutors insuring the “speedy justice that the Bill of Rights of the Constitutions guarantees to litigants, especially in criminal cases, it is being cast aside for the comfort and convenience of the legal panels,” he said.
Pimentel said this is “sad because it is certain that deep down in their heart of hearts, both the offended parties and their heirs and the accused and their families desire a rapid closure to this case. On the part of the complainants, they want the accused to be convicted, and, on the part of the latter, they would want nothing better than their acquittal sooner than later.”
Pimentel suggested that there should be “revision of the Rules of Court by making the time limits set for trials and hearings of cases mandatory rather than directory.”
He added, making “dilatory tactics in court hearings (should be) grounds for disbarment of lawyers. And the parties may, perhaps, be granted the right to freely ask for deferments of trials on cogently reasonable grounds for no more than two occasions. After which, the cases should be tried with or without the presence of the parties and/or their counsel.”
At least 196 people, including the alleged masterminds, former Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr., his son, Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr. and his brother Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, who were allies of former President Arroyo, have been charged with multiple murder in connection with the massacre.