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Televised trial

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:19:00 09/14/2010

Filed Under: Maguindanao Massacre, Ampatuan Trial, Crime and Law and Justice, Judiciary (system of justice), Media, Television

The Estrada impeachment trial was a blockbuster that arguably surpassed the most popular teleserye in audience rating. Work in practically the entire Metro Manila, and in most other cities, came to a stop while the engrossing trial was being televised. It had all the elements: for the first time in Philippine history a president was on trial; it had money?it involved hundreds of millions in jueteng proceeds and government funds; it had sex?luxurious mansions were built for the president?s mistresses; and it starred a cast of brilliant lawyers, including a former chief justice of the Supreme Court and luminaries of the legislature and the bar.

Now there may be another TV blockbuster?if the courts will allow it. There is a proposal to televise live the Maguindanao massacre, and Malacañang and journalists? organizations are in favor of it. The decision now lies with the judiciary, specifically the regional trial court that is trying the case and the Supreme Court which imposed restrictions on the media in its coverage of the trial.

We do not see any major reason why what could arguably be called ?the trial of the century? should be closed to live TV coverage. It is a very important case; all the details that could possibly be divulged to the people should be made available to them. Perhaps portions of the trial where testimony about the alleged rape of some of the women victims could be held behind closed doors. But other than that the entire trial should be televised so that the whole nation and the entire world would know about how a political Frankenstein?s monster was created and given the impression that it could do anything and enjoy perpetual impunity from prosecution and punishment.

Already we have a hint of the sangfroid, the absolute cold-bloodedness of the accused Ampatuan clan from the testimony of the first witness, Lakmudin Saliao, a house help of the Ampatuans. He said the Ampatuan clan planned the massacre of a political rival, his supporters and a group of media men accompanying them over dinner and amid laughter.

If Saliao?s testimony is true, even the women members of the Ampatuan clan must be suffering from bloodlust. He recalled that at one point the Ampatuan women stood up and laughed and said it was ?OK with them all if everyone was killed.? The massacre left 57 people dead, including 32 media workers. It was as if they were discussing the slaughter of dozens of chicken for a feast.

At another point former Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. showed a bit of humanity and said, ?Just set aside the media.? But according to Saliao, the son said: ?No father. Let us finish this. They should all be killed. [They] will talk if they?re not killed.? And the father said, ?Good.?

The Ampatuans must be really coldblooded and must have a very low regard for human life. Saliao said that after the Ampatuan patriarch was told about the massacre, he looked ?happy? and ?kept on smiling.? Andal Jr. is also nonchalant about the whole thing. Often he has been caught by the camera yawning, as if to say, ?This is just one of the things.? And he has been often caught on camera smiling or smirking. Just seeing that hateful smirk wiped off his face should be one of the rewards of a fair trial.
Sen. Joker Arroyo has warned that with almost 200 defendants and 300 witnesses it could take 200 years for justice to be meted out to both the perpetrators and victims of the Maguindanao massacre. If it should take long to prosecute the case, let it go the whole route. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum. Let justice be done though the heavens fall. But surely something can be done to speed things up. Probably the number of witnesses can be limited to the most important ones and marathon hearings can be held. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes of Quezon City Trial Court Branch 221 could also be relieved of her other cases so she can focus on the massacre trial.

The Maguindanao massacre trial should be no less important than the Estrada case, in which the fortune of one man was involved. Here the meting out of justice to 57 victims and 200 defendants is involved. The people also should know how a political Frankenstein?s monster was pampered and allowed to grow by a Machiavellian president to the point that they thought they would perpetually escape the clutches of justice. Televise the trial and let the people know.

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