MANILA, MARCH 20, 2010
(STAR) By Paolo Romero  - President Arroyo reassured international and local journalists yesterday of speedy justice for the 57 people, including 30 media men, massacred in Maguindanao last Nov. 23.

Deputy presidential spokesman Gary Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo has not been remiss in making sure the case would be resolved at the soonest possible time.

He issued the statement in response to an open letter by journalists from 14 countries and economies from the Asia-Pacific region to Mrs. Arroyo to take concrete steps to protect journalists and ensure justice for the victims of the massacre.

The letter was coursed through Press Secretary Crispulo Icban.

“Immediately after the gruesome massacre took place, the President took swift action to ensure justice (for the victims) and even went as far as declaring martial law for which she was also criticized, but she was fully aware that she had to take strong steps in the pursuit of justice,” Olivar said in a telephone interview.

Among the 57 people killed were the wife of Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu of Buluan, Maguindanao and two of his sisters, two female lawyers and 30 journalists who covered the supposed filing of certificate of candidacy of the vice mayor, who is running for governor of Maguindanao to challenge a scion of the Ampatuan clan.

The Mangudadatus have blamed the Ampatuans for the incident, specifically pointing to Andal Jr. as the leader of more than 100 armed men who abducted Mangudadatu’s supporters.

The Ampatuan family has denied any involvement in the killings.

President Arroyo declared martial law last Dec. 5 in Maguindanao to quell what security officials claimed to be an ongoing rebellion in the province after members of the Ampatuan clan were implicated in the massacre.

Olivar said Mrs. Arroyo also formed an independent commission, headed by retired Justice Monina Arevalo-Zeñarosa, that was tasked to dismantle private armies.

Olivar said officials of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) met with the late Press Secretary Cerge Remonde in January and found that nearly all of their recommendations to protect journalists and speed up the case were being implemented or about to be implemented.

The IFJ at that time said the Philippines remains among the world’s most dangerous places for journalists.

He pointed out the Philippine media remains among the freest in the world.

“Their murder, and the death of countless other media workers in your country in recent years, will not be forgotten by us,” the open letter to Mrs. Arroyo dated March 11 read. “We urge you, your government and institutions of the state to take the appropriate action to ensure justice is done and to create a better, safer environment for journalists in your country.”

The journalists who signed the open letter in Jakarta, Indonesia were from Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam.

The journalists were attending in Jakarta the Second East Asia Regional Media Program sponsored by New Zealand and the European Union, with support from the Indonesian government and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Victims’ kin praise international support

The families of the journalists killed in the Maguindanao massacre lauded the concern shown by the international media.

Myrna Reblando, widow of the Manila Bulletin’s Bong Reblando, said the victims’ relatives appreciate the letter of members of international media from 14 countries urging President Arroyo to take appropriate action to ensure justice for the victims and to address the plight of Philippine media practitioners.

Reblando, however, expressed dismay over the Arroyo government’s slow handling of the case.

“We are totally depressed particularly since the hearing of the case has stopped,” she said.

She called on Mrs. Arroyo and concerned agencies to focus on the massacre case so the victims and their families could get justice.

“If the international media and other groups were appealing to our government to take appropriate action to ensure justice for the victims, how much more their loved ones,” Reblando added.– With Rose Tamayo-Tesoro

PNP chief denies rift with GMA By Cecille Suerte Felipe (The Philippine Star) Updated March 20, 2010 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Jesus Verzosa yesterday sought to downplay reports of a rift between him and President Arroyo.

Verzosa said he has no problem with the President though she failed to attend an important event in the PNP at which she was supposed to be guest speaker.

“It was just a creation of some members of the media,” Verzosa said in reaction to reports that Mrs. Arroyo deliberately snubbed the PNP Academy graduation rites in Silang, Cavite last Thursday.

The reports speculated on talks that the President was angry at Verzosa’s earlier remarks that he would not support her prolonged stay in power.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno was reportedly asked to take over as guest speaker for the PNPA graduation rites in a hurry.

PNP spokesman Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina clarified Puno was supposed to be guest speaker since the PNPA is under Philippine Public Safety College (PPSC), a parallel bureau under the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Espina said Verzosa told him during a casual talk that he had just spoken to President Arroyo a couple of days ago over the phone.

“The PNP has a high regard for the President, there is very strong coordination under the normal chain of command,” Espina said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Delfin Bangit also paid a courtesy call on Verzosa and senior PNP officials yesterday.

Journalists were kept out of the meeting of the generals, which Espina described to be “cordial and they were smiling.”

Verzosa said the meeting focused on AFP and PNP coordination to secure the May 10 elections.

National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) chief Director Roberto Rosales was not around during the meeting with Bangit but Espina clarified regional directors were not invited to attend.

There were reports that Verzosa was asked to go on leave to allow Rosales to take over the PNP. Rosales, said to be among the favorites of President Arroyo, is a member of Philippine Military Academy Class ‘78, which has adopted Mrs. Arroyo. Bangit is also a member of the class.

Verzosa, however, refused to comment. “I don’t want to comment on a hypothetical question,” he remarked.

The AFP has also not been spared of such speculations following the appointment of Bangit as the new military chief.

Bangit was Army commander before he was appointed AFP chief.

Mrs. Arroyo then appointed Lt. Gen. Reynaldo Mapagu as the new Army chief, triggering talks that Eastern Mindanao Command chief Lt. Raymundo Ferrer was bypassed.

Ferrer, for his part, denied reports that he became disgruntled over the appointment of Mapagu.

Bangit said this was relayed to him by Ferrer during a telephone conversation.

“I was talking to him (Ferrer) last night (Thursday)...It’s not as published...he said that’s not what he said,” Bangit said.

Bangit said Ferrer respects the decision of the President regarding the appointment of Mapagu.

“Gen. Ferrer is a very professional officer...I have very high regard for his professionalism,” Bangit said.

“I hope they (critics) do not include us in talks about politics,” he added. -With Alexis Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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