Let the cameras in
There is much merit in the petition filed by media entities from across all platforms and regions — including this paper — for the Supreme Court to allow a live broadcast and all-media livestream of the long-awaited promulgation of the verdicts on the Maguindanao massacre, set by Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes for Dec. 19, Thursday, at 9 o’clock in the morning.
“Allowing live coverage would allow families unable to travel to Manila to immediately hear the decision on the 58 counts of murder,” said the petition anchored by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. “Majority of the families of the victims reside in General Santos City, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.”
The petition also argued that the transparency made possible by a live broadcast would help boost public trust in the judicial system.
“Covering/streaming the reading of a decision live would have no effect on the substantive matters. These matters would have already been decided by the court at the time of the promulgation and no longer under judicial considerations,” it added.
That is all true, but the biggest impetus for the Court to take heed of the petition is that this is no ordinary crime whose disposition would constitute an ordinary day of work for a court of law.
The Ampatuan massacre is a singular moment of horrific impunity in the country — 58 persons killed in one blow, the bodies then hurriedly buried in mass graves along with the vehicles they were riding in, the perpetrators eventually charged for the mass murder turning out to be members of one the most powerful political clans in the south, who were staunch allies of the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
To this day, because 32 journalists were among those summarily killed, the international watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists considers the event as the single deadliest blow against journalists in world history.
And because the extraordinary crime has remained officially unresolved over the last 10 years, the Philippines continues to be ranked among the world’s most dangerous places for media workers.
Lastly, the event also qualifies as the worst case of election-related violence in the country’s history books.
The QC RTC began hearings on Aug. 31, 2010, and since then, the trial has moved painfully forward, with promises of promulgation dates coming and going. But, at last, after a grueling 10 years, the verdict will be out in two weeks’ time — and it is paramount for the country to be there in the courtroom along with the victims’ kin, if only through TV and social media’s livestreaming technology, to see the ends of justice being served.
There have been precedents for this.
In 2007, the Supreme Court allowed partial live coverage of the verdict in the plunder trial of former president Joseph Estrada. But the most memorable case was the live radio-TV coverage of Pasig RTC Branch 70 Judge Harriet Demetriou’s decision in 1995 finding Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez and six others guilty of the killings of University of the Philippines Los Baños student Eileen Sarmenta and Allan Gomez.
In his column last August, Inquirer columnist Ramon Farolan vividly recalled the impact of that day: “Almost 25 years ago, on a Tuesday morning in March 1995, it seemed that every radio, every television set was tuned in for the same event. No, it was not a basketball championship game. The decision of Judge Harriet Demetriou on the Gomez-Sarmenta murder case was being read out in court. Described as one of the most thorough decisions of its kind in Philippine jurisprudence, it took four hours to read the entire ruling. Calauan Mayor Antonio Sanchez was accused of the rape and murder of UP student Eileen Sarmenta and the murder of her friend, Allan Gomez, in a case that shocked the entire nation.
“When finally, the dispositive portion was reached, and the guilty verdict pronounced on the accused, the crowd at the session hall broke out in cheers and jeers. Sanchez and his henchmen were sentenced to several life imprisonment terms. I said to myself, maybe the system works after all…”
Filipinos need to see for themselves the same thing — whether accountability and restitution can be had in this abominable crime, and whether the country’s justice system still works in some way.
On Dec. 19 at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City where the promulgation will be held, the Supreme Court should let the the cameras, and by extension the entire nation brutalized and sullied by this case, in.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.