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Saturday, April 17, 2010

NUJP Dismayed Over Dismissal of Murder Charges Versus Ampatuans

By: RYAN D. ROSAURO

OZAMIZ CITY—The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed dismay over the decision of acting justice secretary Alberto Agra to drop murder charges against Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan in connection with the infamous Nov. 23, 2009 massacre in Ampatuan, Maguindanao that killed at least 58 people.

In a statement, the NUJP dubbed the Agra order as a “massacre of the principles that define us as a country and as a people – justice, the rule of law… basic rights, democracy.”

“Agra has hijacked the judicial process and subverted the very justice he should be upholding,” the NUJP said.

Of the 58 massacre casualties, 32 are media practitioners based in various cities in southern Mindanao.

The incident was the worst election-related violence in the country’s recent history and the worst single attack on the media ever throughout the world.

NUJP vice-chair Nonoy Espina said it should have been for the courts to decide, based on evidence available, the innocence or guilt of the persons accused in planning and carrying out the massacre

But by deciding to drop the murder raps against Zaldy and Akmad, “Agra preempted a prerogative of the court,” he said.

Espina said this action is unthinkable as Agra is supposedly “sworn to uphold justice.”

Espina also notes that even prior to his now controversial order, Agra had announced earlier he was inclined to do so.

The NUJP said that the Agra order confirms its suspicion that the Arroyo administration “would do everything within its power to assure” that members of the Ampatuan clan “would not be held accountable” for the crime.

“But surely, this travesty is not Agra’s doing alone, for he could not have done this without the full knowledge and approval of his principal, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” said the NUJP.

The Ampatuans are avid political supporters of Arroyo, delivering the crucial bloc of votes that won her the presidency during the allegedly rigged 2004 general elections.

Suspicious timing

The NUJP notes that the Agra order came “after the charges have been formally filed in court.”

“Not after the judge has issued a commitment order against them, for which the two, along with other members of their clan and several of the 197 accused have been transferred to the Camp Bagong Diwa detention center,” it further notes.

“It is not for us to proclaim the innocence or guilt of either Ampatuans for the November 23 massacre… But neither is it for Agra to do so,” the group asserts.

Zaldy and Akmad are now detained at the Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City along with others accused of carrying out the Nov. 23 massacre.

Broadcaster Neptalie Batolenio, vice-chair of the local NUJP chapter, said they are worried it would be Andal Sr. who would be cleared by the justice department.

“They could be doing it piecemeal in order not to attract so much controversy. This is a dangerous precedent,” said Batolenio.

Agra’s order to drop the murder raps against Zaldy and Akmad stemmed from the fact that both of them were not around the crime scene when the massacre took place in the hinterlands of sitio Masalay, Ampatuan town.

Zaldy, who was elected governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) in 2008, was suspended from his office following the filing of murder charges against him in connection with the massacre.

Apart from criminal raps, he is also facing administrative complaints relating to how he supposedly acted or failed to act in the run-up, during and after the incident.

In December last year, interior and local government secretary Ronaldo Puno said Zaldy’s suspension stemmed from his incapacity to discharge his official functions amid the host of legal charges leveled against him.  In his stead, ARMM vice-governor Ansaruddin Alonto Adiong was sworn in as acting governor. 

SUMILAO FARMERS TO GAIN TITLES TO 65 OF 144 HAS. OF CLAIMED LAND


CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY — After two years of waiting for a promise to be fulfilled, the Sumilao farmers will finally obtain title to portions of the 144-hectare land they claimed and was awarded them under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP).
 
The turnover of two titles is scheduled on April 16 in ceremonies in front of the gate of the San Miguel Corporation (SMC) property in San Vicente village, said Anthony Marzan, executive director of non-government Kaisahan tungo sa Kaunlaran ng Kanayunan at Repormang Pansakahan (Kaisahan).

 
The titles will cover 50 of the 144 hectares land the farmers originally claimed under CARP and which they already possessed since March 2008, and another 15 hectares outside of the disputed estate.  The titles are in the name of the Panaw-Sumilao Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

 
The Sumilao farmers were awarded the 144-hectare estate September 1995 but it was revoked March 1997 after Malacañang approved its conversion from agricultural to agro-industrial use, hence, it escaped CARP coverage. The farmers have since fought to reverse this decision.

 
In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled with finality upholding the land use conversion order.

 
Seeing non-compliance in the supposed land use conversion plan five years after, the farmers sought in 2004 that the estate be covered again by CARP. It was this campaign that drove them to launch the 60-day “Walk for Land, Walk for Justice” in October 2007 from Sumilao to Manila covering 1,700 kilometers. At this time, SMC owned the estate and had put up a hog-raising and meat processing facility.

 
On December 2007, President Arroyo revoked the land use conversion order and placed the estate under CARP coverage again.  This forced SMC to sit in the negotiating table with the farmers and Church officials to strike a settlement formula.

 
By March 2008, a compromise deal was struck that decreed the release of 50 of the 144 hectares to the claimant farmers; the balance of 94 hectares will be acquired by SMC outside of the disputed estate and distribute to the farmers.
Last month, seeing little progress in handling out the titles, the farmers set up camp near the gate of the San Miguel property in San Vicente, Sumilao to express their “anguish over the seeming lack of urgency on the part of DAR and SMC,” said Marzan. 

 
The turnover ceremony will be marked by celebration of mass and a dialogue for setting a timetable for distributing the remaining 79 hectares of land still to be possessed by the farmers.

 
Malaybalay diocesan Bishop Honesto Pacana considers the initial titles distribution as “another landmark in the victory of the Sumilao farmers’ struggle.”

 
Pacana urged groups supporting the Sumilao farmers to join them in celebrating “the fruits of their perseverance, faith, hope and solidarity.”

 
Although welcoming this development, Marzan is dismayed at the piecemeal distribution of land which does not give justice to all their sacrifices.   - Ryan D. Rosauro

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

NUJP asks police official to issue apology for maltreating journalist


OZAMIZ CITY — Journalists in Misamis Occidental are demanding public apology from a police official who allegedly maltreated a colleague.

In a statement, the local chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) urged the Philippine National Police (PNP) leadership to probe the conduct of Supt. Joie Pacito Yape, provincial chief of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), “and apply the necessary disciplinary action…”

According to Wendell Talibong of Catholic radio DxDD, he was subjected to humiliation and intimidation by Yape while he was trying to interview the latter last March 31.

Talibong said it was Yape who called him up a day earlier and asked to be interviewed to air his side about a controversial CIDG raid in the house of board member and vice-mayoral bet Roland Romero, which hogged local media attention. 

The Liberal Party had complained that the raid was merely political harassment, raised questions on the propriety of its execution, and alleged that there were infirmities in the court writ covering the police action. 

Talibong said prior to the call, he had been trying to find an interview opportunity so he obliged to meet Yape.

While both were seated and engaged in light banter in the run-up to the interview, Talibong said he clarified with Yape about the latter’s impression of him as belonging to the camp of outgoing governor Leo Ocampos who is now running for congressman.

Talibong, who also writes for weekly Malindang Herald and online news site CBCP News, related that colleagues have told him that Yape harbored this impression of him.

The discussion angered Yape that he slapped Talibong’s shoulder and hurled invectives at him, his news organization and the local media whom he also accused of plotting his overthrow again from his current post.

Talibong further said that Yape also threatened to arrest him for recording the incident in his voice recorder.

He admitted to have secretly turned on his voice recorder as Yape began throwing tantrums. 

When Yape discovered this, Talibong said he slammed the equipment into the floor.

“It is very regrettable that a police officer of Yape’s stature could perpetuate an abuse against our helpless colleague. We are worried that having done this to Wendell, he can also do the same with other journalists if his act is just put to naught,” the NUJP said.

When Yape cooled down after some time, Talibong said he hugged him tightly and asked forgiveness, and requested that the incident be kept in wraps.

Yape also made the effort that Talibong shared lunch with him.

The NUJP pointed out that beyond being personal, Talibong’s ordeal was an abuse against the news organizations he belonged to and the news media community.

“We note Yape’s request for Wendell to just keep the incident to themselves. This is a veiled gag order; it adds insult to the humiliation of Wendell’s ordeal,” the NUJP said.

“We challenge Yape to be man enough to face the consequences of his own actions,” the group added.

Yape was relieved of his post as CIDG provincial chief last year upon the bidding of Ocampos and vice-governor Francisco Paylaga, both with the administration party then, who supposedly disliked his conduct of police work.

He returned to the same post March this year, allegedly upon the bidding of Ocampos and Paylaga’s opponents who remained loyal to the administration.

Yape’s wife is running for board member in the first legislative district under the administration party.  - Ryan D. Rosauro

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