[PHOTO - President Aquino said the suspects were being tracked down continuously, including the 21 members of the Ampatuan clan who remained at large.]

CALAMBA CITY, NOVEMBER 24, 2010 (STAR) By Aurea Calica – President Aquino vowed not to rest until “justice has been served” to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.

The President, who wore a black armband, said yesterday there had been an assessment of the situation recently and officials agreed to maintain the state of emergency in Maguindanao as well as in Sultan Kudarat and Cotabato City.

“The resolution of these cases has become the litmus test of our justice system. It is one of the top priorities of the justice department. Today we again offer our condolences to the families of the victims and vow to do everything in our power to achieve a timely resolution of this case and ensure that this does not happen again,” the President said in a statement.

In a press conference here after 3rd Annual Convention of the Regional Tripartite Industrial Peace Council, the President has decided not to lift the state of emergency in Maguindanao yet while authorities are still pursuing the suspects in last year’s massacre.

“I asked for an update on the case, how we can resolve this fast and we’re also looking at the output of the prosecutors. I think (Justice Secretary Leila de Lima) had spoken (Monday) on what they were doing to speed up the prosecution and resolution of the issue,” Aquino said.

“Our thoughts on the matter, the reason why we are sporting black armbands now, is in sympathy to all those who perished. They were really helpless. I think those who were killed directly were extremely oppressed as well as their families seeking justice. And if we’re going to have a symbology of obtaining justice, the Maguindanao massacre will be number one in our list,” he said.

The President said there were several factors considered as to why the state of emergency should not be lifted yet.

“But more than anything, you want the populace to feel at ease because we can still note incidents in spite of the fact that there is a state of emergency. We are also trying to arrest those missing. We also want to make sure that the firearms spread there are recovered by our forces. So not yet at this time,” he said.

Press holds indignation rally

Meanwhile, the National Press Club (NPC) yesterday led a motorcade of journalists around the city of Manila to condemn the massacre.

The motorcade started at 1 p.m. at the NPC office in Intramuros, Manila and was participated in by journalists.

A mock trial of the case and the burning of a backhoe model was scheduled at the NPC late in the afternoon.

The Philippine Center for Photojournalists (PCP) also held a rally in front of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to express their indignation.

Joan Bondoc, PCP president, said several members will shave their heads to express their sympathy to the victims and the families of the gruesome massacre.

Also yesterday, NPC president Gerry Yap petitioned the High Court to declare the Regional Trial Court of Quezon City Branch 221 a “special court that will hear the Maguindanao massacre cases only and to divest the same with all other pending and new cases until the Maguindanao massacre trial is terminated.”

“We will not stop until justice is served for the victims of massacre, we will closely monitor the case,” Yap said.

Several print, television and radio journalists wore black dress or black armbands while covering their respective beats to commemorate the first the anniversary of the carnage.

NPC and the Alyansa ng Filipinong Mamamahayag, headed by Benny Antiporda, also sought to allow the media to set up cameras and monitors outside the court.

In Baguio, journalists wore green and black to commemorate the massacre.

The event started with a prayer by 85-year-old Kalanguya “mambunong” (Cordillera native high priest) Ama Tayan Espada for the gods to help the quest for justice. Journalists offered two native chickens at a pine forest patch beside the Baguio Convention Center, which local journalists consider as hollowed ground.

“We gather here to remember and pray it will not happen again,” said veteran journalist Ramon Dacawi, 61, one of the elders and past president of the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club (BCBC).

Instead of putting up a cold stone marker in honor of the victims, media men wore black to signify their mourning and condemnation of the violence. – Sandy Araneta, Artemio Dumlao, The Freeman, AP

8 of 10 say trial moving slowly By Helen Flores (The Philippine Star) Updated November 24, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (1) View comments

MANILA, Philippines - Eight of every 10 Filipinos believe there will be justice for the 57 victims of the Maguindanao massacre, a Pulse Asia survey revealed yesterday.

But Pulse Asia’s “Ulat ng Bayan” national survey, conducted from Oct. 20 to 29, found that a majority of Filipinos or 83 percent think the trial of those implicated in the killings was moving “slowly/very slowly.”

The results of the survey were released exactly a year after the massacre, believed to have been perpetrated by former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and his sons. Thirty-two of the victims were journalists.

Nine percent of the 1,200 respondents were undecided on the matter.

The survey showed that 94 percent of Filipinos are aware of the massacre and almost half or 48 percent reported following the developments in the trial.

Awareness of the incident is nearly the same across geographic areas (91 percent to 97 percent) and socio-economic classes (89 percent to 100 percent).

In Metro Manila, half of the respondents claim they are following the massacre trial, while more than half of those in the rest of Luzon, in the Visayas and in Mindanao said they are not.

Despite their disappointment with the pace of the trial, 80 percent of Filipinos believe that in the end, justice will be served. It was a view articulated by majorities in all geographic areas (71 percent to 87 percent) and socioeconomic groupings (77 percent to 81 percent), according to Pulse Asia.

“One of every 10 Filipinos (10 percent) has a contrary opinion on the matter, with basically similar figures being recorded across geographic areas (five percent to 16 percent) and socio-economic classes (nine percent to 15 percent),” Pulse Asia said.

“While those in the Visayas and Mindanao are most inclined to believe that the aggrieved parties in the trial will get justice (85 percent to 87 percent), Metro Manilans are most likely to disagree with this view (16 percent),” it added.

Public ambivalence is expressed by 11 percent of Filipinos, with indecision levels ranging from eight percent to 13 percent across geographic areas and nine percent to 11 percent in Classes ABC, D and E.

The non-commissioned survey used face-to-face interviews with 1,200 adults 18 years old and above.

Live coverage

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court (SC) is looking into mounting clamor for live TV and radio coverage of the Maguindanao massacre trial, including from President Aquino himself.

“This is now being studied by the Court and this position of the President will be taken into consideration,” SC administrator and spokesman Midas Marquez told a press conference yesterday.

Aquino earlier relayed his wish for live TV and radio coverage of the trial in a letter to Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Marquez said the issue was raised during a full-court session after a month-long recess, but the justices opted not to act on it yet.

He stressed that the lack of action “does not necessarily mean that it (case) is not a priority.” He explained that the petition has been in the Court for just two days.

Marquez said Corona forwarded the President’s letter to the SC for consolidation with the petition for live coverage filed by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.

He also said the SC was convinced that that the President’s letter cannot be considered a form of pressure but a “statement of support for the NUJP petition.”

In his letter, the President said live media coverage of the massacre case trial would “make the people aware of, and convinced that, justice is being done.”

“Permitting the trial to be broadcast and covered fully by media would be a great consolation to the relatives of the massacre victims and our fellow citizens who might otherwise have no opportunity to see justice is taking its proper course,” Aquino said in his letter.

“A trial conducted in full public view, with the entire nation and the world allowed to witness the proceedings, sends the message that justice can and will be dispensed without fear or favor and in the full light of day,” he added.

Marquez said changes in the composition of the SC would likely have an effect on the way the justices would vote on the petition.

The SC rejected a petition for live media coverage of the plunder trial of former President Joseph Estrada.

“Unlike other government offices, courts do not express the popular will of the people in any sense which, instead, are tasked to only adjudicate justiciable controversies on the basis of what alone is submitted before them. A trial is not a free trade of ideas, nor is a competing market of thoughts the known test of truth in a courtroom,” the SC said in its ruling then.

“The Court is not all that unmindful of recent technological and scientific advances but to chance forthwith the life or liberty of any person in a hasty bid to use and apply them, even before ample safety nets are provided and the concerns heretofore expressed are aptly addressed, is a price too high to pay,” the SC ruling read.

This SC prohibition covered cellular phones, cameras, laptop computers, and even simple recording devices.

Apart from the petition for live media coverage, the Court is also looking into the proposal of the National Press Club (NPC) to have the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 221 designated as the exclusive court to handle the massacre case. Judge Jocelyn Solis-Reyes is the presiding judge of Branch 221.

“The Court will study other options because it has always been the intention of the Court to ensure hearings will proceed smoothly without delay,” he explained.

“The Court is keeping its commitment that this case will be decided expeditiously through an orderly, fair trial,” Marquez said.

He said the SC is “satisfied so far” with the performance of Solis-Reyes in handling the case, which he admitted is really difficult to resolve as it involves 57 victims, 197 accused and some 300 to 400 witnesses.

“She (Reyes) is doing her best. That case is really very difficult to handle. Any judge would have a hard time with it,” Marquez added.

For Cotabato Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo, assigning the Maguindanao massacre case to a special court would ensure its swift resolution.

“I think having a special court is much better,” he said.

“Our appeal is for the DOJ (Department of Justice)... give some importance to the case. Whatever they would do, we leave it up to them,” he said. - With Edu Punay, Evelyn Macairan

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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