Philippine massacre trial to be on live webcast

AP News
|
Posted: Jun 21, 2011 8:15 AM
Philippine massacre trial to be on live webcast

The Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a live video webcast of the trial of members of a political clan accused in the massacre of 57 people, including 31 journalists.

It is the first time the tribunal has allowed real-time coverage of court proceedings via the Internet, and the trial to be broadcast involves the November 2009 massacre that is the worst act of political violence in a country inured to bloodshed.

Chief Justice Renato Corona's order comes after the court last week gave permission for live radio and television broadcast of the trial.

"With this, the Maguindanao massacre trial will be accessible to viewers worldwide, continuously and without interruption," a court statement said.

The powerful Ampatuan clan patriarch and former southern Maguindanao provincial Gov. Andal Ampatuan Sr. and several of his sons are among the 196 people accused of killing members of a rival clan and journalists traveling in a convoy in November 2009.

Of the total, 92 suspects are in custody and 58 have been arraigned. The principal suspect, former town Mayor Andal Ampatuan Jr., is accused of leading about 150 gunmen with his father's approval in mowing down the victims. Andal Jr. and his father have pleaded not guilty.

The trial is held twice weekly in a maximum-security detention facility inside a police camp where video, pictures and taping have been previously banned. The prosecution has been presenting evidence and witnesses.

One witness, Ampatuan's servant, Lakmudin Saliao, has testified that six days before the killings, the patriarch asked his family over dinner how they could stop rival Esmael Mangudadatu from running for governor.

According to Saliao, Andal Jr. said "If they come here, just kill them all." His father allegedly agreed.

On the day of the killings, Andal Jr. told his father by cellphone that he had blocked the convoy, Saliao testified. The father ordered him to gun down everybody but spare the journalists, to which Andal Jr. replied, "No ... somebody could talk if we won't wipe out everybody," the servant said.

Radio and TV networks had petitioned the court for live coverage, and President Benigno Aquino III supported their petition, writing to the court that live coverage would let Filipinos learn lessons from the violence so that it won't be repeated.

The broadcasters welcomed the earlier court decision but complained about the strict conditions like continuous broadcast without commercials.

"Hopefully, with the live webcast, the objections regarding no commercial breaks or gaps, and continuous broadcast of entire proceedings will be addressed," court spokesman Midas Marquez said.

The live streaming will be hosted by the Supreme Court's website.

Romel Bagares, a lawyer for relatives of some of the victims, said he "supports any move on the part of the court to broaden the public's right to information and media's right to gather news and report or issue fair comment on issues of the day."

However, he said the order needs to be clarified in case there are conflicts in the guidelines for implementing the webcast and conditions for the live radio and television broadcasts.

"We hope the court listens to media and appreciates the logistical, financial and above all, constitutional issues involved in both traditional and new media broadcasts because they are now interfaced and intertwined," Bagares said.