Journalists barred from covering Ampatuan Massacre trial

CMFR/Philippines – Policemen barred journalists from covering the Ampatuan (Maguindanao) Massacre trial proceedings on 17 September 2014.  No immediate reason was given. Neither were the journalists told whether the directive was from the police, the jail management bureau, or the court.

But the police said the next day that the incident was a miscommunication between them and the jail management bureau. They said they had tightened security because of the large number of high profile inmates inside the police camp.

A temporary court for the massacre trial proceedings has been in the Quezon City Jail Annex inside Camp Bagong Diwa, a police enclosure, in Taguig City, Metro Manila, since 2010.  Most of the accused in the massacre trial are detained in the Camp.

Among other reasons, the temporary court was located in the Camp to avoid the risk and expense of transporting more than a hundred accused from the jail annex to Branch 221 of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court more than 50 kilometers away.

In the morning of 17 September, when the defense counsel of former governor Zaldy Ampatuan was about to present their first witness in support of Zaldy’s bail petition, reporter Evan Orias of Malaya newspaper told CMFR that police personnel at the gates of Bagong Diwa had stopped them from proceeding to the jail annex.

He said that he and another reporter, Mike Frialde of the newspaper Philippine Star, were asked to park near the gate while the police verified from the jail management bureau if they were allowed to proceed to the jail annex.

The two called the jail management bureau’s spokesperson, Aris Villaestra, who said they can enter the jail annex to cover the proceedings. But when they reached the gate of the jail annex, police personnel stopped them.

The two reporters said police officer Marlon Buenaflor denied them entry to the jail annex despite permission from the jail management bureau and instead told them that they should first write to the police permission.

Another journalist who had been covering the trial, Ces Drilon of ABS-CBN News, said in her social media account that she had been coordinating with the police and the jail management bureau for a month, but lamented the lack of clarity from the two agencies.

According to the Camp Bagong Diwa public information office, regional police director Carmelo Valmoria had already asked on 18 September the camp’s commander, Bernardo Borinaga, to coordinate with the jail management bureau.

Valmoria also ordered an investigation into the incident involving police officer Buenaflor, the office informed CMFR.