On April 12, 2011, a special division of the Court of Appeals (CA) issued a resolution charging Rowena Paraan, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), and Monet Salaysay, widow of Ampatuan massacre victim Napoleon Salaysay, of contempt.
The five justices of the CA who issued the resolution accused the two respondents of “foisting bias and corruption” against the court for their statements quoted in a news article where they expressed concerns on the slow pace of the case.
The two were also charged after they pointed out that Associate Justices Danton Bueser and Marlene Gonzales-Sison did not inhibit themselves from deliberations on the pending petition for release of former Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the principal accused in the case.
Zaldy Ampatuan has a pending petition before the CA special division for the court to uphold the April 17, 2010 order of former Department of Justice Secretary Alberto Agra which cleared him from the massacre.
The two CA justices had earlier voluntarily inhibited themselves from a similar petition filed by Andal Ampatuan Sr., the family patriarch accused of ordering the killings.
The contempt charges are alarming and may have a chilling effect especially on those at the forefront in the struggle to find justice for the victims including the families of the victims and media organizations.
The charges will impact not only against Rowena Paraan and Monet Salaysay but on the victims’ families, media groups and other organizations and individuals who remain vigilant against continued efforts of the perpetuators and brains of the massacre to escape culpability.
Having said this, we will not be cowed into surrendering our right to free expression for we cannot afford to be silent as we monitor the progress of a case that is crucial not only because it involves the loss of so many of our colleagues but even more important, because its outcome may well determine whether we can continue to consider ourselves a democracy, a nation, a people.
Many Filipinos are disappointed on how the Ampatuan massacre case has proceeded a year and a half after 58 persons including 32 media workers were murdered in Ampatuan town in Maguindanao on November 23, 2009.
A survey of the Social Weather Station conducted on May 4 to 7 showed that more than half (51 percent) of the people are dissatisfied with how the government is handling the case, up from 46 percent in November last year.
An overwhelming number of people (75 percent) believe the case is proceeding “too slow,” according to the survey.
More than ever, there is a need to remain vigilant on the conduct and proceedings of the case amid continued reports of threats against the victims’ families and legal maneuvers of the accused.
We call on the special division of the CA to withdraw the order, uphold the people’s freedom of expression and heed the people’s demand for a speedy and impartial trial.
We urge the families of the victims, colleagues and friends to remain steadfast in ensuring that justice will not be sabotaged.