The Ampatuan massacre not a press freedom issue

By: Limuel S. Celebria

I am neither surprised nor disappointed by the court’s decision to convict the principal accused in the 10-year old Ampatuan Massacre case in which some 58 were killed including some 32 journalists. It was an open and shut case which dragged on for years mainly because so many were accused, including some of those who were acquitted simply because their alleged participation was hardly material to the consummation of the demonic deed.

Also, just to put my neck out a little for some target exercise of my dear friends in the fourth estate, I daresay press freedom is an extraneous issue in the case. This case does not involve media suppression, oppression, nor censorship. In this case, some media practitioners were victims, yes, but only because they got in between two warring clans. In fact, the media here allowed themselves to be used as human shields by a desperate politician, Mangudadatu, so that he may be able to file his candidacy without getting killed by his vicious rival. I need not elaborate.

Be that as it may, I am thankful that justice has been served; that while the wheels Philippine justice system may grind exceedingly slow, it does a fine job in the ultimate.


Bird on a wire     

When MORE Electric and Power Corp. (MORE Power) executives filed last December 12 an administrative complaint against Regional Trial Court (Branch 35) Judge Daniel Antonio Gerardo S. Amular before the Supreme Court (SC), I thought it was simply adding another layer of suit on this already well-adorned power struggle. In my mind, it isn’t worth a bother since another suit would only further entangle this wired up mess. I thought wrong.

MORE Power legal counsel Hector P. Teodosio and Chief Operating Officer Roel Castro specifically sued Amular for grave misconduct, gross ignorance of the law and violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. They said the complaint was prompted by the way Amular presided over the Writ of Possession or expropriation case filed by MORE Power against Panay Electric Co. (PECO).

It appears Judge Amular tried to get the two parties to settle out of court. He allegedly warned one of the parties that the case could drag on for years. Fair enough, an attempt at settlement is part of the judicial process. But then he sat on the case like a hen waiting for it to hatch.

In a November 28 ruling, Judge Amular suspended further proceedings on the expropriation case noting that the issue is already pending before the Supreme Court.  In part, the decision stated: “(T)he Court resolved to suspend further proceedings in this case in the interest of judicial fairness, respect to the Honorable Supreme Court, and for practicable reasons,” the decision read.

Clearly, the judge is avoiding his pecker getting caught in a wringer by trying not to second guess the highest court of the land. But a ruling, favorable to More or not, he must make if only to follow the order of things – first, the RTC decides on a case, the losing party appeals to a higher court or directly to the Supreme Court, and the SC issues a ruling which becomes part of the law of the land.

But, in fact, the Supreme Court has already given a hint on its leanings when it issued an order barring the issuance of any TRO based on the Mandaluyong court decision which ruled unconstitutional the inclusion of eminent domain powers to More through its Congressional franchise. It is this RTC decision, already overturned by the Court of Appeals, that is under judicial consideration by the High Court.

For sure, whatever ruling Judge Amular makes will find its way to the Supreme Court, especially because the issue is imbued with public interest. By acting like a bird sitting on a wire, he may simply have exposed himself to potshots from the public.