Members and partners of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) today urged the Court of Appeals to withdraw contempt charges against National Union of Journalists of the Philippines secretary general Rowena Paraan and Monette Salaysay, widow of Ampatuan massacre victim Napoleon Salaysay.
The charges stemmed from Paraan and Salaysay’s statements questioning the inconsistency of Associate Justices Banton Bueser and Marlene Gonzales-Sison. Bueser and Sison inhibited themselves from the deliberations on a petition of former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. to exclude him from the list of accused, but not in a similar petition filed by his son, suspended ARMM governor Zaldy Ampatuan. Both are primary suspects in the November 23, 2009 massacre.
“We accept that there is a need to protect the courts against statements that might undermine the fairness of proceedings, such as intimidation of witnesses. But we feel confident that the Philippine courts are able to withstand strong, even unfair, criticism and yet render justice,” IFEX wrote.
The global network of free expression organizations also expressed alarm over the chilling effect the contempt resolution would bring to journalists and other advocates of justice for the Ampatuan massacre victims.
“We urge the Justices to instead recognize the obligation of the judiciary to uphold the right to freedom of expression, in accordance with the international and constitutional obligations of the Philippines.”
Signed by 38 members and partners of IFEX, the joint letter expressed their firm support for the families of the massacre victims and Filipino journalists in the quest for justice and freedom of expression.