Posted by CMFR | Posted in Analysis | Posted on 22-08-2014
The media dropped the ball in reporting the controversial motion of the state prosecutors to rest in the presentation of “evidence-in-chief” (evidence to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt) in the Ampatuan (Maguindanao) Massacre Trial, which is still hearing the bail petitions of some of the accused. The media instead focused on bribery allegations rather than on the real issue raised by some of the private prosecutors.
It was quite predictable, given the technicalities involved in the legal issue which some reporters may have found too difficult to explain in terms their readers, viewers and listeners could understand. In contrast, the bribery allegations are simpler and connect immediately with popular interest. Both issues are of significant public interest, however, and one should not have been sacrificed for the other in terms of media space and time.
Adding to the confusion that ensued was the failure of the news media to find and report the evidence that could have proven the truth or falsehood of the bribery allegations.
The bribery allegation against the state prosecutors were first raised during a live interview with private prosecutor Nena Santos by the late-night TV news program Bandila on July 31, 2014 hosted by Karen Davila, Julius Babao and Ces Oreña-Drilon. In that interview, however, Nena Santos did not name names, saying, “It’s not the right time. . .”
“But you are sure of this accusation?” Davila asked. “Yes. I even told the secretary (Justice Secretary Leila de Lima) that I will file cases against those involved,” Santos answered.
In a separate account on August 6, Drilon reported that a notebook had been given to her by an anonymous informant, which had the names and phone numbers of state prosecutors and the mobile phone number of private prosecutor Harry Roque.
The notebook was allegedly owned by a lawyer of the Ampatuan clan, Arnel Manaloto. The notebook contained names and contact numbers with corresponding amounts of money.
The identity of the informant was revealed in a separate report about a different case altogether.
In the August 6 report, Drilon said, many of the names were of prosecutors and complainants in the massacre trial. She mentioned the names Justice Undersecretary Francisco Baraan III, supervising undersecretary of the state prosecution panel in massacre trial, and his former assistant Paul Garcia. Baraan’s name appeared three times in the notebook with corresponding amounts of money, according to her report.
Drilon also reported that the nickname “Speedy” appeared in the notebook with a cell phone number. Drilon said that this number was the same number that she had for Harry Roque. She also reported that the information in the notebook also included the phrase “10M plus car” next to the nickname “Speedy” when it appeared a second time in the notebook.
Drilon’s report included clips of Roque’s denial that he was “Speedy” and that he ever received bribes from the accused in the massacre trial. Speaking to the media the following day, Roque said that the number is the one he gives to reporters and that it could have been easily acquired by other people he did not know.
The same Drilon report also included a sound-bite from Baraan who declined to comment.
But Baraan held a press conference the following day to refute any claim that he and the other state prosecutors were bribed.
On August 7, Drilon explained in a follow-up report the origin of the notebook and identified more people whose names were in the notebook.
Roque claimed in his own press conference that it was private prosecutor Santos who introduced the informant to Drilon. Asked on social media about the issue, Drilon said that she found the informant on her own.
Drilon was fair in making sure she got the side of those whose names she revealed to be in the notebook. She concluded with the complainants’ call for the government to investigate.
But the reports were premature because at that point, there was no evidence that could have supported the allegations. That single source needed further corroboration.
Drilon reported that another witness claims knowledge about payments made through the Ampatuan defense counsel, but this did not come until one week later.
Media and the Motion to Rest
The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists Inc. (FFFJ) held a press briefing in the morning of July 31 in which Prima Quinsayas, its private prosecutor in the massacre trial, explained why she was opposing the state prosecutors’ decision to rest in presenting “evidence-in-chief.”
(CMFR serves as the technical and administrative secretariat of the FFFJ.)
Quinsayas explained the danger in the state prosecutors’ intent to rest in the presentation of “evidence-in-chief” before the defense panel had presented rebuttal evidence in the bail petition hearings. She said that the presiding judge had not yet ruled on the bail petitions of the primary accused and that the defense had not yet begun to present rebuttal evidence.
She clarified that three of private prosecutors were in favor of resting in the hearing of bail petitions and in resting in “evidence-in-chief” for those accused without petitions for bail.
Quinsayas said she chose July 31 for the date of the press conference as it was the deadline the state prosecutors gave her and other private prosecutors to submit documents to be included in the Formal Offer of Evidence (FOE) in “evidence-in-chief.”
Private prosecutor Nena Santos, having the same position as Quinsayas on the issue of resting in “evidence-in-chief,” also spoke on the issue during the same briefing.
“This is not a personal rift, but a professional rift where we don’t see eye to eye in how to handle the prosecution,” Quinsayas told reporters during the press briefing.
Both prosecutors said that they had not been included in meetings with the state panel since February 2013. They noted that the intent to rest in “evidence-in-chief” included the primary accused, Andal “Unsay” Ampatuan Jr. and former Police Chief Inspector Sukarno Dicay. Both prosecutors said that there were still witnesses who had not yet been presented during the trial who could strengthen the proof for conspiracy which is critical to the trial.
In reporting their opposition, the media resorted to “he said-she said” connecting statements from opposing parties without clarifying the basis of these views.
The next day, the media reported that private prosecutor Harry Roque had released a statement saying “There’s no conflict between the public and private prosecutors in the Ampatuan massacre case. The conflict is between Attys Nena Santos and Prima Quinsayas and everyone else,” setting off a barrage of ‘he-said-she-said’ statements.
Roque explained that he could not oppose resting in “evidence-in-chief” because of the “first in, first out” system he said he proposed that has been adopted by the Supreme Court. But the account failed to explain what he meant by the phrase “first-in, first out.”
Quinsayas responded with how she understood this “first in, first out” system, saying that the list of 28 accused for whom the state prosecutors intended to rest in “evidence-in-chief” does not reflect Roque’s “first in, first out” proposal.
The Supreme Court guidelines released on December 2013 do not mention the “First in, first out” system. The guidelines were released motu propio, meaning the Court released them of its own accord, and not in response to any motion.
In his press statement, Roque said that he had proposed the “First in, first out” system, “so that there can be partial promulgation of judgment against some of the accused – referring then to the Supreme Court’s recommendation that enjoins that judge hearing the massacre trial “to hold, based on her discretion, separate trials for the accused against whom the prosecution contemplates no further evidence and thereby order such accused to present their evidence and, accordingly, have the case submitted for decision with respect to them; provided, that this paragraph is without prejudice to the application of the rules on demurrer to evidence or other modes of terminating a case in advance of a full trial.”
Evidently, he felt that there had been sufficient evidence presented during the bail hearings to secure the conviction of Datu Unsay, former police officer Dicay and 26 others.
In fact Roque said a conviction would “Hopefully include the Ampatuan patriarch and his two sons,” although the 28 accused for whom the state prosecutors wanted to rest in “evidence-in-chief” included only one Ampatuan.
The main point was the plan to rest in “evidence-in-chief” — not the so called “first in, first out” system which really refers to the recommendation for separate promulgations. Quinsayas and Santos said they felt that the prosecution should first hear the rebuttal evidence yet to be presented by the accused in support of their bail petitions.
Eventually, on August 13, Harry Roque said, “We couldn’t file (the motion to rest in “evidence-in-chief”) since the Ampatuans have no counsel,” a report from the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted him as saying.
The next time the Court holds a hearing on September 3, it expects to hear the rebuttal evidence of Zaldy Ampatuan to support his bail petition.
If the media had raised more questions and perhaps worked at clarifying for themselves the basis of the statements by the various parties, they might not have diverted so much attention from the principal point: the need to build the strongest case possible to secure the conviction of the planners and perpetrators of the November 23, 2009 massacre.