Journalists and human rights advocates expressed alarm over a four-hour furlough given by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court (QC-RTC) to a primary suspect in the November 24, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre that killed 58 victims, including 32 reporters.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement it is concerned to learn that QC-RTC Judge Jocelyn Solis – Reyes allowed former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) governor Zaldy Ampatuan to leave detention to attend his daughter’s wedding Tuesday, August 21.
“While we may understand a parent’s desire to be present at such an important milestone in the life of a child, we stress that the crime of which Mr. Ampatuan is accused of is of such a heinous nature that the shock and outrage it stirred around the world forced then President Gloria Arroyo to move against the powerful clan that was among her staunchest allies,” NUJP said.
The NUJP said it learned of Ampatuan’s furlough only through Tawi-Tawi Rep. Ruby Sahali who posted on social media a picture of herself with former ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan.
The caption read: “Alhamdulilla with my former Boss Former RG Datu Zaldy Uy Ampatuan during the wedding ceremony of his eldest daugher Bai Nur Aila.”
Rep. Sahali also posted video from the wedding, which she indicated was held at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Hotel.
“Almost nine years after the rampage that claimed the lives of 58 persons, 32 of them media workers, no one has yet been convicted. Yet a principal accused, Sajid Ampatuan, was granted bail. That and now this, we feel, gives us and the victims’ families more than enougy cause to worry about whether we can truly expect justice for this most grievous of crimes,” NUJP said.
Suara Bangsamoro and the Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights also condemned what they call double standards in granting petitions for temporary releases from detention.
“Granting Zaldy Ampatuan a furlough, instead of conviction, is an insult to the victims of the Maguindanao Massacre. It also proves that under the Duterte administration impunity reigns as criminals and human rights violators such as Ampatuan’s boss, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, are allowed to regain and continue to consolidate their political power,” Suara Bangsamoro chairperson Jerome Succor Aba said.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay for her part said that while Ampatuan was readily given such privilege, “political prisoners were heartlessly denied of their appeals to properly grieve and pay their respects to their loved ones.”
“Andrea Rosal was disallowed to go to the cemetery where her child was interred. Joseph Cuevas and Eddie Cruz were not allowed to even go to the wake of their fathers. Of course, they were not in government and they are poor, so they don’t have the perks of hoodlums and killers such as the Ampatuans, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Jinggoy Estrada,” Palabay said.
The Philippine Star also said Judge Reyes also earlier allowed Ampatuan to attend his daughter’s college graduation from the Ateneo de Manila University.
“We all know that most people accused of lesser offenses almost never get to enjoy a privilege as that granted Zaldy Ampatuan. What made him an exception to the rule?” the NUJP asked.
Sources said Department of Justice prosecutors objected to the petition for furlough by Ampatuan’s defense lawyers, to no avail.
Other sources said that both the prosecution and defense have submitted their memoranda on the case to the court, signalling that the resolution of the long-drawn case would follow shortly.
Judge Reyes reportedly has to rule on the memoranda first before announcing a promulgation schedule.
Reyes holds the Ampatuan Massacre trial in a special court inside Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)