Journalists and justice stakeholders will once again commemorate the Maguindanao massacre on November 23 before it becomes another surreal tragedy with just one slot in the annals of history. Three years ago, 58 people lost their lives allegedly at the hands of Andal Ampatuan Jr., backed by an army of supporters. Ampatuan and several members of his family are now behind bars, but justice is still elusive to the victims, mostly members of the media. Three years on November 23, the Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists.
All eyes were on the Maguindanao massacre case because of the monstrosity of the crime involved. A short lull was destroyed when former ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan, turning his back against his family in a supposed attempt to become state witness, alleged massive cheating in Maguindanao that allowed Juan Miguel Zubiri to claim a senatorial post in 2007. He specifically named his family’s ally--President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo--as the mastermind.
The former Maguindanao poll supervisor emerged to buttress Zaldy’s statements. Bedol also claimed there was vote padding during his employment there, allowing Zubiri to gain the slot.
In August 2011, Zubiri resigned as senator because of accusations he was involved in the vote padding. Thereafter, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) finally proclaimed lawyer Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III as the winner in the 2007 polls. The tribunal gave merit to Pimentel’s election protest, which raised questions of irregularity and fraud in the ballots and election returns obtained from precincts in Mindanao.
Meanwhile, the government started hinting of an electoral sabotage complaint against Arroyo. The administration of President Benigno Aquino III rolled out investigations in a bid to make liable those involved in corruption from the past administration, led by Arroyo. Some of its banner projects, including the Truth Commission, were struck down, however. Aquino also expressed his loathing of the Supreme Court, which he said was led by an Arroyo lackey – Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Two months after being proclaimed senator, Pimentel filed before a DOJ-Comelec panel a non-bailable electoral sabotage complaint vs Arroyo and others supposedly involved in the widespread fraud during the 2007 elections. Justice Secretary Leila de Lima then issued a watch list order against Arroyo and her husband Mike.
Citing the need to have a “metabolic bone biopsy,” Arroyo asked that she be allowed to go abroad. De Lima was not be dissuaded, however, and insisted that Arroyo was a flight risk. Arroyo turned to the Supreme Court to question de Lima’s all-encompassing power.
The Supreme Court (SC) voted 8-5 to release a temporary restraining order on the watch list order against the Arroyos, SC spokesman Midas Marquez announced. He said the couple could leave anytime as long as they comply with the requisites, including the filing of a bond worth P2 million. The Arroyos were also ordered to appoint a legal representative who shall receive all necessary pleadings, summons from the court. Once they are in a foreign country, they are to report to the embassy or consulate there of their actions, movements. The SC later rejected a motion for reconsideration on the TRO.
Associate Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, Aquino’s first appointee to the SC, chided Marquez for supposedly insisting that the TRO was still in effect even if there was no full compliance from the Arroyos on the needed requirements.
On orders from De Lima, immigration officials stopped the Arroyos from leaving the country. Elena Bautista Horn alleged the Arroyo camp received information that the Aquino government was already rushing to file the electoral sabotage complaint vs Arroyo.
True enough, on November 18, 2011, the charges were filed before the Pasig RTC. An arrest warrant was issued versus Arroyo, who was then at the St. Luke’s Hospital in Taguig where she was confined immediately after the incident at the airport.
In a speech, President Benigno Aquino III lambasted the Supreme Court for coming out with decisions that, he said, derailed his programs for the people. Aquino came out with strong words even if Chief Justice Renato Corona and several members of the judiciary were only a few inches away.
The Aquino speech became a preview of the administration’s bid to oust Corona. On December 12, Corona was impeached by 188 members of the House of Representatives.
On May 29, 2012, Corona became the first government official in history to be ousted from office via a completed impeachment trial that started in January. In a historic vote, the Senate impeachment court found guilty Corona for culpable violation of the Constitution on article 2 of the complaint that says he failed to disclose to the public his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth as required under Sec. 17, Article XI of the 1987 Constitution.
Aquino chose Sereno to replace Corona. On her first week as Chief Justice, she imposed a dignified silence policy. The SC then reversed an earlier decision allowing the live coverage of the Maguindanao massacre trial. This came a few days prior to the third year commemoration of the massacre.
Meantime, Congress has failed to come up with solutions to ending impunity, include crimes versus journalists. Some politicians continue to employ private armies. The Senate passed the anti-cybercrime bill that also penalizes Internet libel. Journalists trooped to the SC, which gave a temporary relief: 120-day TRO. Some deemed this as a watch-and-see move to allow the legislative branch to change the questionable provisions while veering the blame and embarrassment away from Aquino who signed the law.
Under the Aquino administration, the government and the MILF signed a framework agreement seeking to end the decades-long dispute in Mindanao. The framework will pave the way for the creation of a new political entity to replace the five-province ARMM: Basilan, Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. It remains to be seen whether the Bangsamoro will finally end the war in Mindanao, which was triggered over the years by the rule of a few and the power of private armies, among others.