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HomeInternational NewsIN FULL | Journalists, civil society appeal to UNESCO on classification...

IN FULL | Journalists, civil society appeal to UNESCO on classification of Amptuan case

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FULL DISCLOSURE: The Digital News Exchange, through its executive editor Julius Mariveles, is among the 18 organizations that signed the letter.

DNX Managing Editor Hannah A. Papasin is also a signatory.

CONTEXT: In 23 November 2009, Buluan Vice Mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu invited 37 journalists to cover the filing of his certificate of candidacy (COC) at the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) provincial office in Shariff Aguak. 

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Mangudadatu was challenging the candidacy of Datu Unsay Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr.

The 37 journalists were part of the 58-man convoy who were set to file Mangudadatu’s COC, led by the vice-mayor’s wife Genalyn. The convoy was stopped by armed men, and brought to a hilly part of the town, and killed.

BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – At least 164 individuals, 18 organizations – among these a university-based human rights group and prominent press NGOs – have signed an appeal addressed to Director General Audrey Azoulay of the United Nations Economical, Social and Cultural Organization to appeal UNESCO’s classification of the Ampatuan Massacre as “resolved.” 

Among the individual signatories are former Social Welfare Sec. Judy Taguiwalo, former House Deputy Speaker Erin Tanada, former Cong. Walden Bello, and city Councilor Wilson Gamboa Jr.

We print the letter in full

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MS. AUDREY AZOULAY
Director General
UNESCO
7 Fontenoy Place
Paris, France

12 September 2020

Re: Classification of Ampatuan massacre case

Dear Madam:

Greetings from the Philippines! We hope this letter finds you safe and well during such difficult times.

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We – the families of the journalists killed in the Ampatuan massacre, as well as media groups, civil society organizations, and concerned citizens who have stood with them in their continuing search for justice – wish to express our distress and disappointment as news reports, including from government media, have called attention to UNESCO’s classification of the entire case as “resolved” and citing this as an accomplishment of the Duterte administration and its efforts to protect journalists.   

We refer you to the following articles, including one from the state-run Philippine News Agency, which marks it as a press release from the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFOMS) in the Malacañang Palace:

https://www.pna.gov.ph/articles/1114216

https://www.philstar.com/nation/2020/09/04/2040042/maguindanao-massacre-resolved-unesco?fbclid=IwAR299M5YoFOZmfLGYYycrbpP9ogFBkyIxguej81IJdrMchoxL3VliFt0jPU

https://newsline.ph/top-stories/2020/09/07/unesco-classifies-ampatuan-massacre-case-as-resolved/?fbclid=IwAR299M5YoFOZmfLGYYycrbpP9ogFBkyIxguej81IJdrMchoxL3VliFt0jPU

These news reports quote from a letter that former Assistant Director General Moez Chackchouk apparently wrote to Ambassador Theresa Lazaro, Philippine Permanent Delegate to UNESCO and Philippine Ambassador to France, to wit: “I am pleased to confirm that we will classify these as resolved, both in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists and in the 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists.”

We acknowledge that the court decision on December 19, 2019, which convicted 28 of the accused of planning and carrying out that most gruesome crime – and 15 others as accessories – was a triumph of justice for the victims of the worst incident of electoral violence in Philippine history, and the deadliest single attack on journalists in the world.

Regrettably, that one court decision does not mean that the case is “resolved.” Far from it.

First, while there has been a verdict, the Ampatuan convictions can still be and, in fact, have been appealed. Brothers Zaldy Ampatuan and Andal Ampatuan, Jr. have filed their appeals before the Court of Appeals, while another brother, Anwar Ampatuan, and his two sons, Anwar Ampatuan, Jr. and Anwar Sajid Ampatuan, have appealed before the trial court that convicted them.

Second, nearly 80 more suspects, 15 of them surnamed Ampatuan, remain at large more than a decade after the mass murder. All of them should be tried, but as of February 20, 2020, only four, two of them policemen, have been arrested and are on trial. Another principal accused, Sajid Islam Ampatuan, brother of Zaldy, Andal Jr. and Anwar Ampatuan, was acquitted even if he was present at the meeting when the massacre was planned. He is now an incumbent mayor of a town in Maguindanao province, where the massacre happened.

This is the reason why the families of the 32 journalists who perished, as well as the witnesses who testified for the prosecution, continue to fear for their safety. As many are not enrolled in the Department of Justice’s witness protection program, and continue to live in their known communities, they remain exposed to possible retaliation and attacks.

Third, the victims’ families, and we who have been with them throughout their difficult struggle, still cannot reconcile ourselves to the fact that, while the court, more than three years into the trial, allowed the inclusion of photojournalist Reynaldo “Bebot” Momay among the victims –bringing the total count to 58 even if his body was never found – only issued convictions for 57 counts of murder, dashing the hopes of justice for Momay’s family.

It is also important to note that, in January 2015, criminal charges were filed before the Maguindanao provincial prosecutor against 49 other persons, including local government officials and police officers, for their alleged participation in the planning, execution, and subsequent cover-up of the Ampatuan massacre. Although these charges have yet to be resolved by the prosecutor, we understand that the lawyers of the victims’ families intend to pursue these cases.

It is unfortunate that UNESCO’s conclusion appears to have relied solely upon government claims, without consideration for the other facts and contexts surrounding the case — a glaring oversight, considering that many of us have good relations and work closely with your agency’s Jakarta, Bangkok, and other offices.

We are most distressed that Mr. Chackchouk’s letter is now being used by the Duterte administration to paint a misleading picture of the state of press freedom in the country. For example, Undersecretary Joel Egco, the executive director of PTFOMS, has said: “With UNESCO acknowledging the finality of the Ampatuan Massacre, we can proudly proclaim to the world that any violence against our media workers will never go unpunished, and that the so-called ‘culture of impunity’ against journalists in the country has finally come to an end.”

Lest it be forgotten, of the 188 journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986, 16 have lost their lives under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has not bothered to hide his disdain for free and independent media. Duterte led the charge to shut down ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network. His government continues to hound independent online news outfit Rappler and its founder and CEO Maria Ressa with dubious legal cases. His national security advisers have incessantly tagged news outfits and journalists who have criticized the government as allies or pawns of “terrorists.” This is a particular source of concern, in view of the recent enactment of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law. We hope that UNESCO will not play into the attempts to “sanitize” the reputation of the Duterte government among international agencies in view of the pending scrutiny of the President by the International Criminal Court.

UNESCO is known for looking at complex issues with a wide lens. In this instance, the wide lens fails to reflect the legal processes and ignores the pertinent issues which delay justice in the system. We recommend reviewing this wide lens as it applies to the Ampatuan trial and the court decision in 2019 so as not to betray the hopes of the families of the victims who are still awaiting justice.

We, the undersigned, respectfully call upon your office to proactively exercise its mandate by doing due diligence and complete staff work on this matter to ensure that declarations about these cases reflect the reality on ground. In this way, UNESCO could arrive at a balanced and comprehensive assessment of press freedom and freedom of expression in general in the Philippines, beginning with thorough consultations with key stakeholders, and not only State officials.

We would be most grateful for your attention and consideration as this is a matter of utmost concern.

Many thanks. In the meantime, please be assured of our esteem and continuing support.

With best wishes,

Organizational Signatories

  • Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) – Ray Paolo J. Santiago, Executive Director
  • Bulatlat.com
  • Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) – Melinda Quintos-De Jesus, Executive Director
  • Davao Today –     Lucelle Bonzo, Executive Director
  • Digital News Exchange – Julius D. Mariveles, Executive Editor
  • Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) – Liza Garcia, Executive Director
  • In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) – Niza Concepcion, Communications Officer
  • Journalism Studies Association of the Philippines (JSAP)
  • Mindanao News Express – Michael Navarro, CEO / Executive Publisher
  • MindaNews – Carolyn O. Arguillas, Editor in Chief
  • National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) – Nonoy Espina, Chairperson
  • Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) – Rosemarie Trajano, Secretary General
  • Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) – Floreen Simon, Officer-in-Charge
  • Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PHILRIGHTS), Nymia Pimentel Simbulan, MPH, DrPH
  • Philippine Press Institute (PPI) – Ariel Sebellino, Executive Director
  • Philippines Communication Society
  • University of the Philippines Department of Journalism
  • VERA Files – Ellen Tordesillas, Board of Trustees President

Individual Signatories

  • Abdul Manan – Chairman, Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) Indonesia
  • Albert C. Lee – Freelance Journalist
  • Alisandra E. Abadia – Kabataan Para Sa Karapatan Negros Oriental
  • Anne Krueger – Paghimutad Negros
  • Anthony (Anton) M. Juan, Jr., Ph.D – Full Professor / Theatre and Film Director & Playwright, University of Notre Dame
  • Antonio G. M. La Viña – Professor of Constitutional Law, University of the Philippines College of Law
  • Antonio J Montalvan II – Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer
  • Asuncion Benitez-Rush
  • Bambina Olivares   
  • Bella Perez-Rubio – Philstar.com
  • Benjamin de la Peña
  • Berlita Ante – Spokesperson, Kadamay Negros
  • Bernardino P. Testa – Former President, Press Photographer of the Philippines
  • Bryan Bosque – Chairperson, Anakbayan Panay
  • Camille Diola – Philstar.com
  • Carlos Conde – Human Rights Watch
  • Carmela Fonbuena – Freelance Journalist; The Guardian
  • Catalina Ricci Madarang – Interaksyon
  • Che Sarigumba – Writer/Journalist 
  • Checcs O. Orbida – Vice President, PeacePond Farmers Association
  • Chickoy Pura – Musician/Songwriter, The Jerks
  • Chito Quijano – Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)
  • Chris Sorio – Chairperson, BAYAN-Canada
  • Cindy Domingo – Chair, LELO/A Legacy of Equality Leadership and Organizing United States
  • Clarizza Singson – Secretary General, KARAPATAN Negros Island
  • Clement C. Camposano – President, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty member, University of the Philippines Diliman
  • Crimson Labinghisa – Coordinator, Kabataan Partylist Panay
  • Cristina Palabay – Secretary General, KARAPATAN
  • Dana Batnag
  • Danilo Arao – Associate Editor, Bulatlat.com
  • Danilo dela Fuente – Vice Chairperson, SELDA
  • Danilo Fabella – Songwriter/Performer, Musikangbayan
  • Danilo Tabura – Spokesperson, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas Negros
  • Diego Malacad – Secretary General, Undoc-Piston
  • Dinah Tapiah Roma
  • Dr. Vicente Rafael – Professor of History, University of Washington
  • Dr. Rachel A.G. Reyes
  • Edeliza Hernandez – Medical Action Group (MAG)
  • Edgar Cadagat – Journalist
  • Edna Aquino – Human rights advocate
  • Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV – Philstar.com
  • Elizabeth Gonzales – Private citizen
  • Elizabeth L. Enriquez – Board Member and Treasurer, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty Member, University of the Philipines Diliman
  • Elmer Forro – Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Panay
  • Emmanuel Amistad – Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
  • Emmanuelle Duterte, MD
  • Ereneo Longinos – Deputy Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros
  • Erlinda Cadapan – Chairperson, Desaparacidos
  • Eunice Barbara C. Novio – Journalist / OFW  
  • Evangeline Hernandez – Chairperson, Hustisya
  • Fe Mangahas
  • Felipe Gelle – Deputy Secretary General, September 21 Movement
  • Francis Allan L. Angelo – Daily Guardian
  • Franco Luna – Philstar.com
  • Gaea Katreena Cabico – Philstar.com
  • Gianna Montinola
  • Gino Lopez – Paghimutad Negros
  • Grace Morales – JUSTICE NOW (the organization of families of the 32 slain journalists)
  • Hannah Papasin – Managing Editor, Digital News Exchange
  • Ian Nicolas Cigaral – Philstar.com
  • Inday Espina-Varona – Journalist
  • Jaileen Jimeno – Journalist
  • Jaira Balboa – Philstar.com    
  • Jairo Bolledo – NUJP; Department of Journalism Polytechnic University of the Philippines
  • James Relativo – Philstar.com
  • Jane Worthington – Director, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific
  • Janess Ann J. Ellao – Bulatlat.com
  • Jeline Malasig – Interaksyon
  • Jennie Arado – Editor, SunStar Davao
  • Jerbert Briola – Human Rights Online Philippines
  • Jervis Manahan – News Reporter, ABS-CBN News
  • Jesson Reyes – Managing Director, Migrants Resource Centre Canada
  • Jet C. Orbida – President, PeacePond Farmers Association
  • Joel Pablo Salud – Writer/Journalist
  • John “Butch” Lozande – Secretary General, National Federation of Sugar Workers
  • John Ian Alenciaga – Coordinator, Altermidya Panay
  • Jojo Riñoza – Freelance Photojournalist
  • Jonathan Basanta García – Profesor de Español, Cencias Sociales y Teoría del Conocimiento
  • Jonathan De Santos – Philstar.com
  • Joseph Bernard Marzan – Daily Guardian
  • Judy Taguiwalo – Former Secretary, Department of Social Welfare and Development
  • Julianne Balora – Spokesperson, Kabataan Partylist Negros
  • Juluis A. Dagatan – Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Negros 
  • Jyasmin M. Calub-Bautista – Assistant Professor, Department of Development Journalism, College of Development Communication, UP Los Baños
  • Karl De Mesa – Freelance Journalist
  • Kaye M. Casimero – Anakbayan Western Visayas State University
  • Kristine Daguno-Bersamina – Philstar.com
  • Kristine Joy Patag – Philstar.com
  • Kristofer Purnell – Philstar.com
  • Kriztine R. Viray – Philippines Communication Society
  • Lila Ramos Shahani – Former Secretary-General, Philippine National Commission for UNESCO
  • Lisa Ito – Secretary General, Concerned Artists of the Philippines
  • Lisandro Claudio – Assistant Professor, Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies, UC Berkeley
  • Lorenzo Tañada III – Former Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives
  • Lui Queano – Coordinator, Malaya Canada
  • Luisa Morales – Philstar.com
  • Ma. Arve B. Bañez – University Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas
  • Ma. Diosa Labiste – Board Member, Philippine Studies Association; Faculty Member, University of the Philippines Diliman
  • Mae Paner – Artist / Cultural worker
  • Malcolm Guy – Documentary filmmaker; President, Productions Multi-Monde Inc.
  • Manuel Mogato – Journalist
  • Marchel Espina – NUJP Bacolod
  • Marden Jalandoon – Secretary General, Gabriela Negros
  • Maria Jovita Zarate – Board Member and Secretary, Philippine Studies Association; Senior Lecturer, University of the Philippines Open University
  • Maria Karina Africa Bolasco – Book Publisher
  • Marianito Amacan – Spokesperson, Kilusang Mayo Uno Negros
  • Marie Boti – Documentary filmmaker; President, Diffusion Multi-Monde Inc.
  • Marizon B. Esquela – Private citizen
  • Mary Ann M. Arnado – Secretary General, Mindanao Peoples Caucus
  • Mate Espina – Columnist, The Visayan Daily Star
  • Melanie Morrison – Project Manager, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific
  • Mia Magdalena Capuyan Fokno – Baguio Chronicle
  • Michael Jobert Navallo – Reporter, ABS-CBN News
  • Mideo M Cruz – Artist
  • Milo Paz – Writer/Filmmaker
  • Monet Pura – Band manager, The Jerks
  • Monina Gulmatico – Spokesperson, Migrante Negros
  • Nilda Lagman – Sevilla – Co-Chairperson, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearances (FIND)
  • Noel C. Esquela – HR, Migrants, and Overseas Absentee Voting advocate
  • Oscar V. Campomanes – Ateneo de Manila University
  • Pastor Jec Borlado – Program Director, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches
  • Patricia Depra – Coordinator, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny Negros Island Region    
  • Patricia Lourdes Viray – Philstar.com
  • Paulynn Paredes Sicam – Freelance journalist; Editor, Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN)
  • Pepito “Pete” Pico – Spokesperson, Movement Against Tyranny Negros
  • Priscilla Goco – Partido Manggagawa Negros
  • Ramon Guillermo – Professor, Center for International Studies (CIS) UP Diliman
  • Ratna Ariyanti – South East Asia Coordinator, International Federation of Journalists Asia Pacific
  • Ratziel San Juan – Philstar.com
  • Red Batario – Center for Community Journalism and Development
  • Remmon E. Barbaza, Ph.D. – Department of Philosophy, Ateneo de Manila University
  • Renato M. Reyes, Jr. – Secretary General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan
  • Rev. Fr. Julian Jagudilla, OFM – Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)
  • Rev. Joy Tajonera – Director, Ugnayan Migrant Ministry
  • Rev. Luis Daniel Alba Pantoja, BA, MA, ThM – Peacebuilding Missionary
  • Reylan Vergara – Secretary General, Panay Alliance Karapatan
  • Rhea Gamana – Secretary-General, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Canada    
  • Rico Foz – Philippine International Network for Advocacy and Solidarity (PINAS)
  • Rigie O. Malinao – Convenor, Kabataang Tagapagtanggol ng Karapatan (KATAPAT)
  • RJ Ledesma – Chairperson, League of Filipino Students Bacolod
  • Romana P. de los Reyes – Environmentalist
  • Rommel F. Lopez – PressONE.ph
  • Ronald U. Mendoza, Ph.D. – Dean, Ateneo School of Government
  • Rosario Liquicia – Trustee/Editor, VERA Files
  • Rosette Adel – Interaksyon
  • Rowel C. Montes – Program Director, Sunshine Radio Tacloban
  • Siegfred Deduro – Vice President for Visayas, MAKABAYAN Panay
  • Sr. Aquila Sy – Presentation Sisters
  • Susan Jaro – Promotion of Church People’s Response
  • Susan Roxas – Private citizen
  • Susan Severino Lara – Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas
  • Taher Guiambangan Solaiman – Journalist
  • Ted Aldwin Ong – Journalist
  • Tess Bacalla – Project Lead, Asia Democracy Chronicles
  • Tita Valderama – Journalist
  • Tomasito T. Talledo – Professor, University of the Philippines Visayas, Miag-ao, Iloilo Campus
  • Tyrone Velez – Columnist, SunStar Davao
  • Very Rev. Marco Sulayao – Chairperson, Promotion of Church People’s Response Panay and Guimaras
  • Victor Kintanar – Photojournalist, Licas.News
  • Walden Bello – Former Congressman; Professor, The State University of New York at Binghamton; National Chairperson of Laban ng Masa
  • Weldon M. McCarty – Writer
  • Wilson Gamboa Jr. – Councilor, Bacolod City
  • Woodrow Francia – Journalist
  • Ysh Cabana – Stop the Killings in the Philippines-Canada Network

cc:

Michelle Bachelet
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Agnes Callamard
UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

Irene Khan
UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression

Peggy Hicks
Senior Director, UN High Commissioner on Human Rights 
(Lead on Violence Against Journalists Strategy)

Guilherme Canela De Souza Godoi
Chief of Section, Section of Freedom of Expression and Safety of Journalists

Ming Lim Kuok
UNESCO Jakarta

Moek Chackchouck
Former Assistant Director General, Communications and Information, UNESCO

Christine Delsol
Executive Assistant to Former ADG Chackchouk

Grace Morales
JUSTICE NOW (the organization of families of the 32 slain journalists)

Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network Conveners
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, MindaNews, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Philippine Press Institute

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Julius D. Mariveles
Julius D. Mariveles
An amateur cook who has a mean version of humba, the author has recently tried to make mole negra, the Mexican sauce he learned by watching shows of master chef Rick Bayless. A journalist since 19, he has worked in the newsrooms of radio, local papers, and Manila-based news organizations. A stroke survivor, he now serves as executive editor of DNX.

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