Being FFFJ Counsel

I have to believe that justice will eventually triumph

By Prima Jesusa Quinsayas, PJR Reports May-July 2012



It’s the same old story.  Rather, the same old reaction whenever I’m asked about my work as private prosecutor in media killing cases and I answer, “I’m here as FFFJ legal counsel.”

My reply to the usual reaction to my statement comes automatically:  I explain that FFFJ stands for Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists, an umbrella organization comprising five media institutions.  These are – in alphabetical order (yes, I do emphasize this phrase) – Center for Community Journalism and Development, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Philippine Press Institute.

When pushed for more information, I add: FFFJ was organized to find ways to counter the culture of impunity surrounding media killings.

The conversation then becomes complicated when the focus turns to media killings.

No matter how many times I have discussed the subject of media killings with a friend or an interested acquaintance, or before a bigger audience, I almost always stumble at the start.

I have not figured out where and how to begin when discussing media killings.

Should I start with the culture of impunity that permeates our Criminal Justice System so much that the system seems unable to hold accountable the perpetrators of media killings?    There have been 125 work-related media killings since 1986 when democracy was said to have been restored.  Of these, there have only been 10 convictions involving either the gunman or the accomplice or both, but none of the mastermind…

…or should I begin with a discussion on the lofty ideals of a free press and how important its role in contributing to the formation of an informed public is?  And how, in turn, an informed public could lead to meaningful participation in a democracy?  The Philippine Press has, at crunch time, proven itself capable of this role:  the very first People Power will always be a classic example.

Or is an introduction on the five pillars of the Criminal Justice System the best kick-off point:  How these five – law enforcement, prosecution, courts, correctional and community – must all work together to ensure justice is served?  It is not enough that people with a high sense of duty and integrity pursue the prosecution of the suspected killers of journalists and media workers as well as the masterminds.   Law enforcers who handle the initial investigation of media killings must also do so with care and secure crucial evidence that will prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt.  Unfortunately, stories abound of such evidence getting lost in sloppy police work…

…or should I start with the public itself, which seems to have developed amnesia and forgotten about the role the press played in ridding this country of a tyrant, and so cannot care less that the number of journalists being killed is on the rise?  It is sad to note the absence of public outrage whenever another media killing is reported.

Or should I start with journalists themselves, many of whom seem to have adopted the roles of the executive and judiciary?  And how, in doing so, they appear to have abandoned the primary role of the press in keeping the public informed?  Journalists would certainly be the first to complain if government assumes the role of the press.  Yet, what do we make of journalists assuming the roles of the police, prosecutor and judge all in one?

Or should I perhaps begin with the legal profession whose members – as many non-lawyer friends so apologetically tell me – are mostly greedy?  And, as those same well-meaning friends claim, are more likely to advise clients to sue rather than explore other legal means to resolve disputes?  More often than not, I take refuge in silence when these friends rant about lawyers using and abusing certain legal remedies just to prolong proceedings.  (At the end, I ruefully remind them that when the label “NGO legal counsel” is stripped from me, I remain a lawyer.)

As discussion progresses, there is no escaping talking about the impact of media killings on the surviving kin of the victims, especially the children…  How does one look into the eyes of a child and explain that his father or mother was killed because of a news exposé?  There is simply no logic to that.

While I am saddened by self-censorship or the chilling effect media killings may have on the press, I do not approve of journalists taking foolish risks to get a story.  A multi-awarded and veteran journalist once shared, “I’m alive because I tell myself I’m afraid.”  Despite that, he has produced investigative reports that probably earned the ire of abusive public officials.

No story is worth a journalist’s life.  Journalists should live to fulfill their duty of bringing to the public the news of another day.

The discussion almost always ends with the question of whether I believe justice will still be attained given the protracted criminal proceedings.  Many times I am tempted to answer in the negative, but instead I catch myself saying, “Yes, otherwise I have no business being a private prosecutor.” #

Lawyer Quinsayas has BA and MA journalism degrees from the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication